New York

Lucas Ajemian, Laundered Painting (20x16) I, 2014, painting on linen, 20 × 16". From the series “Laundered Paintings,” 2010–.

Lucas Ajemian, Laundered Painting (20x16) I, 2014, painting on linen, 20 × 16". From the series “Laundered Paintings,” 2010–.

Lucas Ajemian

Marlborough | Broome Street

Lucas Ajemian, Laundered Painting (20x16) I, 2014, painting on linen, 20 × 16". From the series “Laundered Paintings,” 2010–.

Historically, aleatory procedures have yielded artworks that flaunt the removal of subjectivity, or at least posit as significant the marginalization of intention. Lucas Ajemian’s “Laundered Paintings,” 2010–, shown in bulk for the first time at Marlborough Broome Street, by contrast—and rather paradoxically, given the importance he grants to process—resupply the authorial presence that is undermined when composition cedes to chance. Further, the works insist on the social ground on which the making transpires.

To create the series, Ajemian first obtained paintings made by his artist friends, and then—as the title announces—he treated, soaked, and bathed these canvases at his neighborhood Laundromat. His efforts yielded a wide variety of effects. In some works, such as the turquoise-and-orange Laundered Painting (20x16) II (all works cited, 2014) and the lush springtime-hued Laundered Painting (37x45) I, the colors are surprisingly bright despite or maybe because of the sluicing. In others, traces of imagery remain: Laundered Painting (33x26) I retains both the silhouette of a woman and her potent, scarlet lips, while Laundered Painting (25x23) II divulges an upside-down figure, eyes wide open. In still others pieces, the tones are muted and gray, paint clinging only tenuously to the canvas in sparse patches. Ajemian’s method is similar to the one Pavel Büchler has deployed for his “Modern Paintings,” 1997–, an important precedent: Büchler obtains discarded paintings from students, friends, and flea markets, carefully removes the pigment from their surfaces, then runs the denuded canvases through a washing machine before using the salvaged paint to compose new works on those same canvases. Yet while the artists responsible for Büchler’s source paintings remain anonymous and inconsequential, in Ajemian’s work this is hardly the case; the readymades—what the press release designates “hosts”—have been donated to the cause by the likes of Julien Bismuth, Anna Craycroft, Tim Harrington, Katja Holtz, Nate Lowman, Dean Monogenis, Dana Schutz, and Cheyney Thompson. In drawing on the resources of his social network and in commemorating those ties via an act of phoenixlike destruction and regeneration, Ajemian invokes most obviously Robert Rauschenberg’s Erased de Kooning Drawing, 1953.

Ajemian describes his laundered paintings as “worn in,” a phrase invoking a blue-jeans-like informality that he simultaneously betrays by refitting his pieces onto brand-new stretchers. In so doing, he will sometimes change the original works’ orientations or introduce raw ground to the structure; elsewhere, he may cut a given work into segments, individually framing these parts. Interventions into toothless contemporary abstraction, the artist’s techniques perpetuate this mode. Yet he also (somewhat unwittingly) shows what happens when one is forced back into the position of a painter, for real. For though Ajemian names the hosts’ authors, nowhere does he match a given artist to a given painting—note the dimensions as titles: In withholding this information, Ajemian is able to recuperate the role of author. (That said, viewers will be able to make some identifications; the abovementioned upside-down figure, for one, is clearly courtesy of Schutz.) Ultimately, the “Laundered Paintings” are exercises in formal judgment. In making the paintings so fully his own, Ajemian had to decide what would constitute an aesthetic, through what means he might arrive at it, and when each piece was done. The original artists’ creative decisions, obscured by Ajemian’s actions, are overlain by his own decisions. Ajemian questions the fate of de-skilled painting as it meets social practice, telling a joke and its punch line all at once.

Suzanne Hudson