Los Angeles

View of “Kevin McNamee-Tweed,” 2019.

View of “Kevin McNamee-Tweed,” 2019.

Kevin McNamee-Tweed

Steve Turner

For his solo debut in Los Angeles, the Iowa City–based artist Kevin McNamee-Tweed clustered dozens of objects—many small enough to hold in your palm, and all solicitous of visual if not tactile intimacy—into wall-mounted vignettes. Shelflike relief sculptures made of found wood braced diminutive glazed ceramics. Alongside these altar-like installations were carefully considered arrangements of his earthenware paintings (flat panels the size of a book or a tablet), acrylics on muslin with bilateral symmetry (hence their designation as the “Butterfly Series,” 2019–), drawings, and ephemera. Despite the small scale of each item, the gallery was full; the overwhelming sense of proliferation and industry was amply reinforced by the checklist, a thick, stapled stack of many, many pieces of paper, which still did not form an exhaustive inventory. Somehow, this profusion of images nevertheless cohered into motifs—keys and domestic interiors, certain appropriated art-historical and more vernacular sources—that migrated from sketches on paper to other media. Drawing was, so to speak, a throughline, one that acknowledged the capaciousness of a surface that might support McNamee-Tweed’s mark-making, which is maybe another form of writing.

One of the first shelf forms viewers encountered, the narrow, muslin-coated Herbal Cure (all works 2019), held the object Penmanship, which recalls an inkwell. The overall assembly of the rough-hewn ledges running in a horizontal line across the wall registered as a series of materialized em dashes. Their thin profiles meant that, seen from a distance, they seemed to cut holes in the space, even as they projected from the wall. Moving closer, one could see their sutures and elaborate surface treatments: Many were adorned with fragments of words cut from newsprint or were partially covered in fabric or paint. The works are literally containers of content that redouble the function of the vessels.

Interspersed with these word banks on two long walls were the clay “paintings,” featuring subjects including a pig with a human face, a psychedelic mushroom, and a piece of toast. A few works combined these two mediums: In Hand on Stop, the horizontal support accommodated a little ceramic disk titled Megz and a landscape scene scored in clay and fired with rich colors called The Bridge. The ersatz composition extended onto the wall, where McNamee-Tweed had drawn a little triptych of green, red, and purple monochromes that hovered near the upper right of the physical work. DiosEsUnSecreto (God Is a Secret) demonstrated another compelling strategy for layering images: The ceramic slab represents a picture gallery, evoking visual compendiums that, among other things, perform mastery over different genres and styles. McNamee-Tweed propped up not only physical objects, but also interconnected traditions of making and displaying work.

A book that McNamee-Tweed published on the occasion of this exhibition illuminates his own compendium of sources. The cover photo, of a key painted on a garage, repeated higher on the building as a sign, introduces the play of references for interpretive acts: A locksmith sign also becomes a key to what lies within. The reference file is filled with photos of everything from vintage cartoons to floor tiles, paint swatches, advertisements, a view of Blinky Palermo’s studio, and documentation of one of Daniel Buren’s “ballets,” during which performers paraded his stripe paintings through the streets of New York. The publication confirms the lightness with which McNamee-Tweed wields his expansive vocabulary and his commensurate wit, and creates the impression that the artist’s images might simply float free if not for his endless attempts to ground the material. Among pages depicting architectures and animals (cats, a rabbit, squirrels, a bear), street scenes of New York, and sacred spaces, readers came across a poem by the artist (who is also a writer and curator) and texts relating to the show’s title, “Literature.” On the 109th page, amid shots of a storefront, a screenshot of a search for hank hill butt, and graffiti reading MCRIB IS BACK, the poet Bradley King defines this key term: “Literature appears to be a collection of images taken on your phone and sent to someone special.”