New York

Nicholas Di Genova

Art built around the repetitive accumulation of objects and images has been around for long enough that it could constitute an extensive collection of its own. From China’s 2,200-year-old Terracotta Army to Antony Gormley’s Field, 1991; from Andy Warhol’s early-1960s soup cans and Coke bottles to Allan McCollum’s “Shapes Project,” 2005–2006, countless artists have exploited the power of sheer number for visual impact and associative effect. And though this compulsive racking and stacking has perhaps most often been linked to Minimalism and its direct descendants—think, to take one iconic example, of Walter De Maria’s Broken Kilometer, 1979—it is common, too, in work of an altogether less restrained temperament.

The titles of a suite of drawings in Nicholas Di Genova’s “Chimera,” the Toronto-based artist’s second solo exhibition at this gallery, hint strongly that his oeuvre might fall into the latter camp. Sure enough, 900 Fish, 900 Amphibians, 900 Reptiles, and three similarly named companion pieces (all works 2009) employ the same rigorous grid structure that Agnes Martin and Sol LeWitt made their own, but Di Genova invests (or, better, infests) it with a wildly diverse array of categorized—though often fanciful—plants and animals. And if nine hundred examples of a given genus sounds like packing ’em in, the epic 20,009 Butterflies makes an insistent argument for more being more. An undulating field of jewel-like forms in black on white, the work only comes into focus on close inspection but fulfills its title to the letter (and digit).

That Di Genova crams these teeming populations onto modestly sized sheets of paper (all those insects line up within a frame just sixty inches wide) is testament to the totality of his immersion in detail. However tempting it may have been to skimp on a particular feature or marking, he demonstrates an unrelenting enthusiasm for exploring every imaginable variation on a given natural theme. This might still yield banal results were the artist’s technique not up to the task, so it is fortunate that he proves adept at imparting character to even the tiniest plucked bloom or disembodied head. That there is a certain sweetness to what he does is undeniable (he is, by style and association, firmly in the cartoonists’ camp), but its verve and density ensure that the project doesn’t stop there. Far from it. Using pen and ink alone, Di Genova takes a line for a walk and finds . . . just about everything.

The artist’s beloved grid crops up again in another suite of drawings, but is here integrated into more complex layouts involving head-to-toe renderings of invented hybrid creatures (the chimeras of the show’s title). Savannah Region, for example, features a daffodil-headed hybrid giraffe-zebra rampant, surrounded by arrays of animal heads and exotic seeds. The work’s separate elements float on an untouched ground but are connected by slender ruled lines, suggesting the structure of a family tree or some other slow-burning narrative. This device, along with that of the blacked-in speech bubbles that pop up throughout the set of images on view, maintains a symbolic link with the comic-book universe that Di Genova’s closest analogues—Chris Ware, Sean McCarthy, Zak Smith, and Shawn Cheng—also inhabit (Smith and Cheng mix it up with Di Genova on a website called Road of Knives, an ongoing variant on exquisite corpse that features monsters at perpetual war with one another). But these flora and fauna don’t need a motivation; they simply live, and do so with furious, joyful intensity.

Michael Wilson