February 9, 2009

Joan Banach: GeoAb with a shot of vulgarity please

When Tom Micchelli stopped by Small A Projects, he was puzzled by Joan Banach's dark, virtually monochromatic hard-edged abstractions that looked like they belonged in MoMA, circa 1959. Until he recognized her delight in the vulgar. "Not that her work is crass—on the contrary, it is the last word in sleekness and serenity—but something closer to vulgaris, 'of the common people.' Put another way, it is Pop without Warhol. It doesn’t entertain the viewer with hot colors and masscult signifiers, but plays a game of quiet seduction by hitting High Art marks while delivering the graphic intrigue of a Mike Mignola dark-on-dark cover for Hellboy or BPRD. While this interpretation may seem conjectural, Banach appears to encourage it—not merely by co-opting a Hollywood illusionistic technique, but also through her exhibition announcement, which features a film still from William Cameron Menzies’s ultra-camp 1936 British sci-fi flick, Things to Come. A retro-futurist paean to scientific progress, the movie’s naïve faith in humanity’s capacity to rise above barbarism may be as obsolete as matte painting in the age of CGI, but we have felt a resurgence of it lately, a twinge that the idealism of the past may just be the sole path to the future. (In this regard, Banach’s title for her exhibition, 'Citizen,' not only harks back to the honorific of egalité from the French Revolution, but also eerily prefigures the much-remarked-upon opening of Obama’s inaugural address, 'My fellow citizens' instead of the standard 'My fellow Americans.')

"Banach’s peculiar mash-up of elite and populist forms can be viewed as a contemporary echo of Metaphysical Art’s cannibalization of Cubism: formalism at the service of pictorialism (and Banach’s titles, such as 'Avatar' and 'Metaphysician,' read like self-conscious distillations of Giorgio de Chirico). By injecting an aesthetic endgame like geometric abstraction with a shot of the vulgar, Banach slaps it awake to unconsidered possibilities and unintended interpretations. This can feel off-putting if you don’t give the paintings a chance, but I think it’s where Banach takes her most formidable leap of faith—to escape hermeticism at the risk of tackiness—and her stark, somber pictures can leave you feeling more guilty pleasure than you’d ever expect." Read more.

"Joan Banach: Citizen," Small A Projects, New York, NY. Unfortunately, the show ended in December.

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