New York

Jamisen Ogg

Hudson Franklin

The installation of Jamisen Ogg’s New York solo debut, titled “Conscientious Objectifier,” was not exactly bilaterally symmetrical, but each object installed on one side of the gallery had its corollary on the other. A quick glance suggested that the objects perfectly mirrored each other; a closer inspection revealed the tension between division and reconciliation that gave the show what conceptual force it possessed.

The reconciliation on offer was between two historically distinct utopian visions: on one hand, the sanitary spaces and clean lines of modernist architecture and design and, on the other, a messy counter-cultural spirit, here represented by tie-dye patterns. In one of two works titled False Sense of Sophistication, 2008, the brightly colored design, airbrushed onto canvas and paper by hand (rather than actually dyed), is overlaid with a black silhouette of a house by architect Louis Kahn. Other works that hung salon-style in the gallery’s office, such as Untitled (post suburban psychedelic), 2008, reverse the order of this layering, camouflaging black geometric forms beneath airbrushed patterning and a shimmering haze of sinuous lines in colored pencil.

It is difficult to determine just what such juxtapositions are meant to express. One can interpret the images metaphorically—the modernist rigor and the vibrant looseness as, respectively, left- and right-brain versions of visionary thinking, and the balance represented by all the mirroring as an expression of a harmonic or spiritual equilibrium that each approach seeks. But such a reading seems a burden too heavy for many of the artworks to bear. Consider Gutter and Awning (both 2008), works on paper hung to the left and right of the gallery entrance. In Gutter, wisps of sprayed-on color and fragments of longer colored-pencil lines hover around a rectangular white space at the center of the composition. A glance over one’s shoulder revealed that Awning once rested in that void, the two sheets of paper placed together as the artist worked on them. The penciled lines on the former work had radiated outward from the Christmas lights that appear in negative, dangling from a strand like icicles, on the latter. (The icicle pattern recurs in False Sense as red, blue, yellow, and black paint drips falling from the roofline of the Kahn-designed residence.) Between Gutter and Awning, suspended from the ceiling, was a sculpture in which a clump of the kitschy seasonal lights hangs from a George Nelson bubble lamp.

That the visual embodiments of “pure” modernism and disheveled late-1960s counterculture have become clichéd was best, and most humorously, expressed by Grim and Reaper (both 2008), two photographs depicting ornate colored-glass bongs shaped like the figure of death and resting on shelves in mirror-backed cabinets. Here the attempt to grapple with representations of psychedelia and Minimalism goes up in smoke or gets lost in a hall of mirrors, an admission that the rest of the works in Ogg’s exhibition seem too self-serious to make, icicle lights notwithstanding.

Other artists conflate the strange and the straight with more effective results. At his best, for example, painter Matthew Greene, whose evocations of mycology and ambiguous sexuality are often incorporated into modernist grids, creates a compelling estrangement. Perhaps the visual languages Ogg has tapped are too frictionless—too familiar, too thoroughly assimilated into cultural discourse—to create sparks when they are struck against each other.

Brian Sholis