New York

Cynthia Daignault, White Columns Bulletin Board: ‘There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of Fact it’s all dark,’ 2011, oil on linen. Installation view.

Cynthia Daignault, White Columns Bulletin Board: ‘There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of Fact it’s all dark,’ 2011, oil on linen. Installation view.

Cynthia Daignault

White Columns

Cynthia Daignault, White Columns Bulletin Board: ‘There is no dark side of the moon really. Matter of Fact it’s all dark,’ 2011, oil on linen. Installation view.

Like a conceptual puzzle with too easy a solution, Cynthia Daignault’s project has a transparency that hews perilously close to the counterproductive. But while her art seems at first to refuse any possibility of mystery or “expression,” instead dealing explicitly with the mechanisms of visual display and institutional context, it is more than just an arid joke. Unusually for a display of oil-on-linen paintings, Daignault’s exhibition at White Columns was designed specifically for and in response to the existing features and proportions of the gallery’s main space and lobby. Yet while unequivocally site-specific, this deadpan suite of pictures also inserted itself into an ongoing commentary around the intersection of naturalistic painting with photographic and videographic imaging.

The show’s opening work prompted double takes from White Columns regulars accustomed to seeing the gallery’s glass-fronted bulletin board, usually employed as a miniature project space, hanging on the wall adjacent to its entrance. Daignault has removed the much-used object and replaced it with a painted copy, in which Pink Floyd’s album The Dark Side of the Moon is pinned dead center. Introducing the show, this canvas also introduced viewers to the artist’s painterly mode, a clean but unfussy photorealism that doesn’t sweat the small stuff. Daignault does enough to make her depictions clear and convincing without chasing trompe l’oeil perfection.

High on the wall above the bulletin-board painting hung another, smaller canvas, Slide Projector (all works 2011). Depicting the titular piece of near-obsolete equipment as seen from the front, it appears at first to be a stand-alone work, but was hung here directly across the room from Slideshow, a painting of a fuzzy rectangle of white light. With this straightforward bit of simulation, the artist both electrifies the space between the two works and draws on a history of “blank” canvases that also takes into account the likes of Blinky Palermo’s Projektion, 1971, for which he projected the image of one of his fabric works onto the exterior of a building. Slideshow thus combines stark realism with near-monochrome abstraction, extending the possibilities of each into the established territory of the other.

The same kind of interplay happened throughout the show; thus, the self-explanatory LCD Projector was paired with White Light/White Heat, a rectangle of primary colors evoking a digital test screen. (Likewise, in Screen test: test screen, a painted monitor displays SMPTE color bars.) Whereas Slideshow’s white-on-white look recalls Robert Ryman or a pallid Mark Rothko, the art-historical link here is to Barnett Newman’s Who’s Afraid of Red, Yellow and Blue III, 1966–67. There is certainly an element of geekery to the inclusion of such iconic likenesses, but the deeper interest of their cut-’n’-mix approach to format, method, and subject remains. How would a painter go about making a Color Field abstraction today? What would it mean to do so? How has electronic media impacted the way we perceive and evaluate images of all kinds?

Two further inclusions complicate the project still further: Appropriately placed paintings of a black Barcelona couch and a pair of matching stools rope the politics of gallery furniture styling into the fray, while the appearance of a snippet from Samuel Beckett’s Molloy (1951) in The one I shall now describe, if I can . . . (another “projected” panel) points in an intriguing literary direction. Daignault seems not to be trying too hard—borrowing a line from the Kinks, she titles one painting of drifting clouds I think of the Big Sky, and nothing matters much to me—but her work’s apparent effortlessness conceals a multipartite promise.

Michael Wilson