New York

Blake Rayne

Miguel Abreu Gallery | Orchard Street

In planning the Blue Tower, a luxury-condominium complex on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, Bernard Tschumi Architects faced, according to the firm’s website, a particular challenge: “to create an original architectural statement while simultaneously maximizing the zoning envelope.” To meet this challenge, the architects designed the structure to cantilever over the commercial space to the south so that its upper floors are larger than its footprint but within its sanctioned “envelope.” The Blue Tower thereby redefines a squat tenement-building skyline by pushing up against its confines. In Blake Rayne’s second exhibition at nearby Miguel Abreu Gallery, however, the building lay flat, under glass, in the form of an architectural rendering. In the tower itself, square footage and monetary value have been inflated to the highest numbers possible; in Rayne’s appropriation, they have been compressed: neat, clean, almost insubstantial.

Placed on the reception desk, which Rayne had moved to the center of the gallery, the image was folded into the show’s fabric, as it were. Folding was, in fact, in play throughout. Each of the seven paintings on view is made up of three panels of gessoed linen that had been spray-painted while folded. Reopened and stitched together horizontally, the panels feature flat, graphic friezes of geometric shapes (some similar to the silhouette of the Blue Tower) that alternate with the white gesso backgrounds in colors including taupe, mauve, and gold. Most of the canvases have additional touches (handpainted lines, stenciled letters). Alongside these large works hung panels taken from the wooden crates used to transport them, the pairings both suggesting another spatial collapse (this one between container and contained) and implicating the gallery in the same rapid, perpetual turnover that happens on the streets around it. More forceful in the latter regard were the various incarnations the show took: For about a week midway, Rayne closed the gallery and allowed Megan Fraser to shoot a film inside it. After this, he reopened it in still another form, having added a small found image (depicting a man on a bicycle that has been altered so as to double as a knife sharpener) and repositioned the desk and the screen on which was running Fraser’s Tour d’Ombres (Tower of Shadows), 2007, a film he had left on view from the previous exhibition.

The Blue Tower’s glass facades are “meant to reflect the multiple realities” of the surrounding neighborhood, and this show seemed to have similar intentions. Rayne put together a cool presentation that, if it offered a critique (of gentrification, of making “machines for living”), did so understatedly, by adopting the fabric of the world around it, one less like patchwork than like origami. The exhibition design, the works themselves, and the compositional details were presented as overlapping, their meanings compacted and partly concealed. Playing across the surface, however, were a few allusions that lent the selection a darker finish. Rayne’s Untitled Painting No. 7, 2008, for example, portrays the number five, in both word and numeral form, in gold paint—the same subject found in Charles Demuth’s famous watercolor, The Figure 5 in Gold, 1928, which itself refers to William Carlos Williams’s poem “The Great Figure” (1921), where a golden five speeds through traffic on a red fire truck. Untitled Painting No. 2, 2008, displays, as its topmost paint layer, the title of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s first novel, This Side of Paradise (1921). That these visually prominent references are rooted in the 1920s did not seem coincidental. To part the folds was to recognize the moment before a crash.

Kyle Bentley