New York

Ann Veronica Janssens, Untitled (blue glitter), 2015, glitter, dimensions variable.

Ann Veronica Janssens, Untitled (blue glitter), 2015, glitter, dimensions variable.

Ann Veronica Janssens

Bortolami Gallery

Ann Veronica Janssens, Untitled (blue glitter), 2015, glitter, dimensions variable.

A whisper of a show, spare to the point of near-disappearance, Ann Veronica Janssens’s recent exhibition at Bortolami—the Belgium-based artist’s solo debut at the gallery, timed to coincide with the first American museum survey of her work, at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas—provided a modest glimpse into her range of sculptural, spatial, and atmospheric concerns, and a sense of both the strengths and limitations of her practice. Though obviously a temperamental descendant of the Light and Space artists, Janssens, who has shown widely in Europe, also derives formal strategies from the projected-image work of post-Minimalists such as Anthony McCall. Taken together, the limited selection on view here hinted at the low-key perceptual poetics that underpin her project, but individually the works’ effects were often so subtle and ambiguous that their stated ambitions—to activate the space and alter visitors’ perceptions—threatened at times to dissolve into the realm of wishful thinking.

The exhibition consisted of six individual pieces showcasing a number of Janssen’s approaches, all of which rely on interventions (material or immaterial) into a space in an attempt to create certain experiential moments or perceptual zones. As is characteristic of her program, Janssens took advantage of the range of available surfaces—works were hung at various locations along the walls, while one was set on the floor and another projected into space. This recognition of the possibilities latent in the physical environment was most vivid in Gambie, 1995/2015, an eight-foot-long fluorescent tube that passed from the gallery’s entrance space into its main room through a cut in the wall made a dozen or more feet above the ground. The only work not conceived in 2015 on view, the piece did suggest an engagement with the existing architectural fabric, but beyond that its impact was essentially negligible amid the other elements of the brightly lit gallery’s illumination scheme. Somewhat more convincing gestures awaited in the central gallery, including Untitled (blue glitter), a smear of sparkling electric-turquoise powder drifted across the cracked concrete floor; a pair of corrugated aluminum panels, both titled Moonlight, given a platinum-leaf coating, and made to hover uncannily above the viewer at an angle from the walls like little awnings; and Californian Blinds #2, a commercial vertical louver hung frontally and decorated with gold leaf. These wall-based pieces suggested one of the more intriguing aspects of Janssens’s enterprise—an attempt to coax out a certain kind of phenomenological energy from relatively simple materials (precious metal frostings notwithstanding). However, despite its apparent nod, in both title and form, to Robert Irwin and other first-generation West Coast perceptualists, Californian Blinds relied on a fairly predictable lenticular effect, while the Moonlight panels produced almost no effect at all aside from a highly localized division of space and a faint cast that only the most generous of readings would connect either perceptually or metaphorically to lunar glow.

The show’s final work, and its ostensible centerpiece, was a projection set alone in a separate room. With an array of pinkish spotlights projecting a sort of starburst into a field of artificially produced haze, Untitled was a familiar form for those who know Janssens’s practice—the artist has produced a number of closely related works over the years, including Rose, a strikingly similar piece made in 2007. Untitled operated in three zones—the small lights produced a seven-pointed star shape in an indeterminate space away from the wall on which they were placed, lit the vaguely fogged room with a soft magenta radiance, and shone a kind of inverted image on the opposite wall, where seven glowing blush-colored circles surrounded an equivalent seven-sided negative space. Despite its trappings and intent, Untitled was finally neither truly immersive like the Light and Space work to which it owes a significant debt, nor apparently interested, à la Dan Flavin, in explicitly foregrounding the material mechanisms of illumination. Instead, like the rest of this show, it felt strangely marooned between artifact and effect, neither fully committed to nor as fully persuasive as either.

Jeffrey Kastner