Lydia Gifford, Rest, 2012, house paint, clay, gauze, wood, pigment, beeswax, chalk, 50 3/8 x 42 1/2 x 2".

Lydia Gifford, Rest, 2012, house paint, clay, gauze, wood, pigment, beeswax, chalk, 50 3/8 x 42 1/2 x 2".

Jonathan Binet, Lydia Gifford, and David Ostrowski


Lydia Gifford, Rest, 2012, house paint, clay, gauze, wood, pigment, beeswax, chalk, 50 3/8 x 42 1/2 x 2".

The gestural, the provisional, the elliptical, the casual, the specific, the latent; the cool, the warm; the frame, the floor, the wall: Perhaps it is right that this show of abstract paintings (or framelike, wall-supported assemblages or two-dimensional-ish sculptures in the posture of paintings) should invoke so many abstractions and oblique architectural referents. If the three young artists gathered here work in a contemporary language of painting that is familiar—its roots in post-Minimalism, its present in the long, glittery shadow of current abstract painting influenced by photographic technologies—still it remains, somehow, undefined. This, in turn, makes so much of the critical writing about it equally indeterminate, a stuttering collection of adjectives that point (poetically, ever inaccurately) to the thing they cannot, by nature, name. So, putting it another way, I will do my best.

The first thing that struck the spectator here was how much the works by Jonathan Binet, Lydia Gifford, and David Ostrowski look alike. The paintings might easily have been made by the same artist, immediately raising the ideas of surrogacy and simulacra—ideas that are hardly foreign to the highly self-conscious works themselves. Gifford, the subject of an excellent “Statement” at Art Basel last year, distinguished herself by continuing to advance a kind of whiter-shade-of-pale manifesto. Her spare, lucid works mostly keep to a chalky palette and are the result of a process of adroit alteration. Quoting its prop-piece forebears, Stet, 2012, was pushed up casually against the wall, as tall as you are. Its pale, uneven surface and domestic materials—house paint, wood, gauze, sand, chalk, marble dust, nails—collude to create a form both corporeally spectral and patently architectural. The equally commanding (and also monosyllabically titled) Rest, 2012, breaks the frame: Its gestural, plasterlike surface (paint, clay, chalk, beeswax) seems to be in the midst of exiting its wooden support in a rush (wax on, wax off), mucking up and laying intimate claim to the wall on which it hangs.

While Ostrowski’s painting F (Plötzlich Prinzessin) (F [Suddenly Princess]), 2011, approximates the same kind of pale, slumberous ground (assisted by layers of white paper), he then streaks it with two blue vertical, parallel lines that conjure graffiti. Along the top of the canvas, a scuffed line of black paint appears like a printing error (or a frame), a gesture repeated in the painting-on-cotton F (Versuche es nicht zu merken) (F [Try Not to Notice]), 2011, which offers a more geometric assembly of pinkish sprayed-on lineation. Binet’s more bombastic works, meanwhile, combine the modes of his two fellow artists. One bright, antic painting (Untitled, 2012) uses both its pale paper and canvas support and the wall itself as ground; it features a compasslike composition of graphic shapes rendered from purple spray paint, white wall, and pieces of wood set at a ninety-degree angle, like a frame cut in half.

In all these artists’ works, the physicality and pale torpor of the materials—and their attendant psychological pathos, whether real or learned from art history—are set between opposing forces: on one side, modernist abstraction’s obsession with the frame and the monochrome; on the other, a coolly clinical and graphic use of line and color that conjures Marieta Chirulescu’s and Wade Guyton’s analog and digital painting processes. Past and present, in other words. If the attractiveness of the works here is real and true, their perhaps overly accessible legibility raises the question of whether this will one day also apply to the language they’re made in, which does not yet feel equally real and true.

Quinn Latimer