Los Angeles

View of “Jacob Kassay,” 2011.

View of “Jacob Kassay,” 2011.

Jacob Kassay

L&M Arts | Los Angeles

View of “Jacob Kassay,” 2011.

Mounted by a gallery better known for its specialization in works by blue-chip artists than for its fledgling LA-based contemporary program, Jacob Kassay’s first solo West Coast show seemed something of an anomaly. But L&M Arts’ interest in this young painter is no mystery: Regardless of their merit, Kassay’s silvery-reflective monochromes made a splash at auction last fall. Anticipating the cynics, the staff penned a press release that was quick to distance Kassay’s older output from the new work he made for this show. Calling attention to the differences in surface treatment, it announced that his most recent paintings would feature a “surprising yet deliberate lack of reflection.”

If Kassay had demonstrated the savoir faire needed to glide through this awkward impasse, it would certainly have marked him as an artist to watch. Given the opportune colliding of arbitrary prices and precious metals (those mythic stores of supposedly intrinsic value), Kassay might have taken a tip from Yves Klein (whose estate is also represented by L&M) and attempted both to recuperate the monochrome’s sublime presence and to critically undermine its fictive claim to autonomy in one gesture. To be fair, as this young artist publicly sorts through his own still-forming intentions, he has yet to clearly articulate how (or even whether) he intends his work to dialectically engage these contradictory impulses.

However, on this occasion, rather than taking hold of the conditions of production, distribution, and reception at work in shaping—if not foreclosing—his practice, Kassay choreographed a precious investigation into Color Field and “Minimal” painting around a ballet barre, (installed at one end of the gallery), behind which, stapled to bare wall studs, he had mounted a silver-coated sheet of rag paper made using his signature technique. There were also six pairs of monochrome panels of varied thickness (in combinations of pink, white, and oxidized silver) hung in rows unusually low on the opposing walls that flanked this central installation. As one approached each diptych, the components of each pair visually merged onto a single plane—a neat trick but hardly the kind of formal innovation characteristic of Robert Ryman, Ellsworth Kelly, or any of the other art-historical greats to whom those who’ve bought into the hype have ventured to link Kassay’s practice.

But if, on the one hand, this work had little to say in terms of form or its own materiality, neither did it venture to engage the discursive context of its display. At the end of one row of diptychs hung a partially concave, shaped canvas that had been arranged next to a work that, in turn, had been bisected by a graphite arc drawn directly onto the wall. This mildly site-specific installation may have perceptually activated the immediate viewing space, but it provoked no consideration of the venue’s particular symbolics—namely, that this was a newly opened West Coast branch of a major New York gallery, and that exhibiting here would likely play a pivotal role in directing the trajectory of the artist’s practice. For comparison, one need only look to the pithy business-as-usual intervention that David Hammons recently made in L&M’s New York location.

Offered a chair at the high rollers’ table, Kassay could have made only one compelling move—a wager with the potential to break the bank. Of note: His Paris dealer, Art: Concept, has already offered public assurances that the artist is not about to meet the market’s demand for more of the same. In fact, had Kassay overperformed (or overproduced) this summer, he might have presented a distance from these overdetermining forces or even productively embraced them. . . . It appears, however, he’s chosen to ignore them altogether.

Ben Carlson