Contributed by Adam Simon / One of the under-appreciated aspects of art viewing is the way that a given work establishes a certain relationship with a viewer. Mark Rothko famously claimed that “lots of people break down and cry when confronted with my pictures.” He may have been trying to fend off a formalist reading of his work, but I can’t help wondering about the type of relationship he posits in that quote. In Amanda Church’s fine exhibition “Recliners” at High Noon, a very different type of relationship is established, in which the object playfully attunes the viewer to the knowledge and predilections he or she might bring to the experience of looking. Don’t expect to cry, but do prepare to be winked at.
In contrast with earlier work of hers that I’ve seen, most of these paintings present as flattened. undefined shapes and colors arranged on a rectangle, delineated by crisp lines of varying thicknesses. This more abstract direction offers a great deal, slowing down the read and allowing the viewer to appreciate Church’s ability to provide just enough information to prompt allusion without actually identifying what is depicted. What prevents the viewer of these paintings from experiencing the “emptied out” catharsis to which abstract art putatively aspires is the preponderance of flesh-like colors and curvaceous forms.
Church’s paintings indulge the viewer’s desire for coherence while managing to sustain an exquisite limbo between the not-really-abstract and the not-quite-narrative. It’s a delicate balancing act and what is remarkable about these paintings is how layered the references are, and how much Church manages to say with her tongue in her cheek. For example, there is a certain assumption of shared knowledge. The male art-historical references are right up front: John Wesley and Tom Wesselman, for sure, but also Lichtenstein and, if you squint your eyes, Mondrian. There is also something about the judicious combination of the curvilinear and the rectilinear that hearkens back to the entire classical genre of female bodies in interiors, all the naked Majas and Venuses surrounded by drapery and furniture.
Church’s is not the abstraction of pure form, but the abstraction that occurs in the extreme close-up, where things start to lose their identification. The allusions to modernism and classicism have to compete with yet another interpolation, a more contemporary version of directed gaze. Closely cropped curves and rectangles, architecture, and folds of flesh conjure a situation that is either very familiar or vaguely recognizable, depending on how you spend your leisure time. The erotic close-up, the camera zoomed in on parts of bodies, flesh and furniture, cue your mind to complete the picture.
The painted rectangle and its abundant history now coexist with other rectangles that prompt other types of viewing. This rich exhibition covers it all.
“Amanda Church: Recliners,” High Noon Gallery, 106 Eldridge St., New York, NY. Through November 10, 2019.
About the author: Artist Adam Simon is affiliated with Studio 10 in Bushwick. His most recent solo show, “From this Position,” took place earlier this year.
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