Marti Cormand

The Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum

Who’s afraid of red, yellow, and blue? Not Marti Cormand, whose multipanel drawing Red, Yellow, and Blue, 2007, opened the Brooklyn-based painter’s recent Emerging Artist Award exhibition at the Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art. Zooming in on a snowy landscape, the sequence of five precisely rendered images details an unexpected component. As the viewpoint of the pencil and watercolor renderings approaches the edge of an Arctic ice shelf, the stark grays of the environment are interrupted by an incongruous tangle of primary color. At the point where ice meets water and we observe the plateau in cross section, what appears to be an internal matrix of rods or bars is revealed.

Suggestive of the metallic superstructure running through reinforced concrete, the addition is startling in its patent artificiality. Cormand’s conceit immediately alters our perception of the image as a whole by at once underlining its status as pure construction and hinting at a deeper reality buried beneath superficial perception. As it turns out, our faith in the veracity of the scenes presented in this and the eight other works in this neatly designed show was already on shaky ground. Almost all are based on anonymous photographs scavenged from the Web and as such are the potential subjects of both in-camera distortion and subsequent digital manipulation. While they seem believable, Cormand’s obvious interjections aside, there are no guarantees that these scenes ever existed nor, in most cases, any indicators of their precise times and places of origin.

Ten Steps, 2007, one of the show’s two large canvases, seems to play on this very lack by depicting a snowy landscape that is entirely featureless, barring a line of deep bootprints stretching from the immediate foreground to a distant, hazy horizon. It’s a convincing rendering of texture in particular, but the image’s most notable feature is, again, a weird polychromatic infection that seems entirely alien to the scene’s “natural” ambience. Frothing from each print is a scattering of what look like the minute parts of some fiendishly complicated model kit, a seemingly endless accumulation of tiny poles, boxes, props, frames, balls, and other forms, the ambiguously functional appearance of which recalls the convoluted assemblages of Diana Cooper or Jane South. In Cormand’s painting, it is as if the frozen North were an untapped source of ready-finished plastic doodads, cute-looking but also vaguely sinister in their unexplained abundance.

Landslide, 2007, the other large canvas, relies on a similar effect but at an increased scale. It depicts, in vivid, if at times less convincingly naturalistic, oils a semicollapsed hillside from which Cormand’s signature forms emerge, bringing with them a host of questions: Do these unnamed bits and pieces symbolize pollution (thereby representing a cause of natural disaster), or are they somehow symptomatic of it? Are they the pure products of artistic imagination, or do they illustrate something that exists on a different perceptual plane? Is their chaotic arrangement in Ten Steps and Landslide a comment on the problematic status of abstraction (they suggest polished offcuts from Joan Miró as much as anything from the real world) or on the muddying of landscape as an idea and a painterly genre?

The show’s parting shot was a set of five paintings on paper titled Party-ing Ibiza, 2007. Here Cormand subjects an image of what is assumed to be the titular Balearic Island (a popular resort for British clubbers, hence the “Party” in Party-ing) to a gradual Gordon Matta-Clark–like splitting. In the first panel, the hypothetical act is given an edge of literalism by the introduction of a narrow gap running down the center of its frame’s glass; this hovers over an (impossibly precise) gap between the two halves of the landmass. As Ibiza is ever more deeply divided, it is also depicted in darker and darker tones from farther and farther away until at last, at nightfall, it vanishes.

Michael Wilson