Contributed by Jason Andrew / It seems only fitting that University at Buffalo, an institution built on the reputation of one of the great female art dealers of the 20th century, Martha Jackson, would be the one to raise the bar that much higher when it comes to “women’s work.” “Take Five” featured the work of five women: Meghan Brady, Adriane Colburn, Melissa Dadourian, Tricia Keightley, and Meg Lipke. Curated by Robert Scalise, the mercurial director at the UB Art Galleries, the show was one of the most ambitious and provocative exhibitions I saw in 2019 thanks to his dynamic eye and insightful juxtapositions. So with deadlines erased by the pandemic, I welcomed the opportunity to revisit an event that allowed each artist to take great risks in scale, break boundaries between genres in their processes, and push the notion of material as subject matter in their art.
Over the last few years, Meghan Brady has shifted away from painting on stretched canvas and towards site-specific unstretched works often on Tyvek. I first saw her work in April 2018 at Tiger Strikes Asteroid. At the Anderson Gallery, her 16-foot, multi-paneled, blue beauty titled Everyday (2018) was a stunner. With big gestural marks and bold colors, she expands traditional pictorial space pushing painting into the realm of installation. It’s no wonder Brady’s work has been compared to Betty Woodman’s. Brady is brilliant in her ability to render breadth and drama in epic scale while puzzling in representational forms that allude to the human body and objects from the everyday.
The work of Adriane Colburn was new to me, and seeing her in the context of this show could not have been a better introduction. With a self-proclaimed “penchant for research and direct experience,” Colburn’s interest in scientific mapping has led her to participate in expeditions in the Arctic and the Amazon. Her sophisticated sculptural installations often incorporate bent strips of painted wood and are suspended from the ceiling. These Tinker Toy-like matrices extend drawing into sculpture while compressing sculpture into drawing. In The Spoils (2019) at the UB Art Gallery at CFA, Colburn composes a geometric matrix of reclaimed wood, paint, granite, and marble on the floor. Spindles rise where gridded lines meet, forming an abstraction intended to reference pipelines, ship tracks, roads, routes and other overlays of our industrial world. Here, the selection of materials connects the subject matter to German sculptor Charlotte Posenenske.
In 2018, Melissa Dadourian was one of the seven artists I invited to participate in Norte Maar’s collaborative ballet series, CounterPointe. I had followed her Soft Geometry Series with great interest, and in “Take Five,” she explores the epic potential of this series in Soft Weirdo Installation No. 1 (2019). Created and installed specifically at the Anderson Gallery, the work is a wacky Winnebago of a wall hanging, engineered on a drivetrain of remnants of both found and woven fabrics. Wooden supports bring a three-dimensional framework into the mix while string, thread and yarn serve as connectors. The work power-slides to the ground with a circle of painted rocks. Weirdly, this work offers something both assertive and timorous, much in line with the Shinique Smith’s work.
The paintings of Tricia Keightley command order. She finds inspiration for her abstractions in the mechanical systems that make our world run. Engineering plans and architectural layouts are implied in canvases that feature black line on flat color. Even the titles have been systemized as sequences of height, width, and date. In 68.68.15 (2015), the framework elicits a sanitized environment conditioned for surgical accuracy. Keightley’s clean compositions tie the illustrative with the painterly, recalling the late artist Elsie Driggs. A three-minute video animated her hand-drawn imaginary mechanical elements while highlighting the drawing process behind her Precisionist-based paintings.
I have known Meg Lipke since the early days of Bushwick circa 2006. Always connected to the materials, she has steered herself clear of clarification. Her work has never been about painting, because it’s never been about referencing the pictorial frame. And her work has never been about sculpture, because it resists the gravity required to stand still. Garden Gate 1 (2019) stands over nine feet tall and nine feet wide. Owing much to Eva Hesse’s Hang Up (1966), Lipke’s stuffed muslin form imports textile and painting into the sculptural realm. She subjects her forms to binding, tying, squeezing and stuffing. In some cases, the form fits the painting; in others, the painting fits the form. This kind of physical manipulation found its counterpart in Unus Mundi: Survival Ceremonies, a collaborative exploration with choreographer Julia K. Gleich and the UB Department of Theatre and Dance.
In its ambition, its curation, its installation, its various juxtapositions, this exhibition compares with the historic shows mounted by Martha Jackson. In particular, “New Media, New Forms,” which took place exactly 60 years ago, featured a poster and catalogue designed by Claes Oldenburg, was organized in cooperation with nineteen other galleries, and united the work of a diverse cast of artists including Lee Bontecou, Alberto Burri, Alexander Calder, Bruce Conner, Dan Flavin, Jasper Johns, Allan Kaprow, Louise Nevelson, Robert Whitman, and Kurt Schwitters among many others. Called “wild and wacky” by the New York Times, the show didn’t have an immediate impact, yet it enjoys a lasting foothold in history for its exploration of material as subject matter. Likewise, “Take Five” will stay with me for its ambitious scale and its celebration of five fine artists’ virtuosic exploration of materials in the service of meaning.
“Take Five: Meghan Brady, Adriane Colburn, Melissa Dadourian, Tricia Keightley, Meg Lipke” was curated by Robert Scalise and held at University at Buffalo Anderson Gallery (September 14, 2019–January 12, 2020) and University at Buffalo Art Gallery, CFA (September 15, 2019–December 14, 2019). A catalogue with text by Becky Brown accompanied the exhibition.
About the author: Jason Andrew is an independent scholar, curator, and producer who co-founded and directs Norte Maar, a non-profit organization that creates, promotes, and presents collaborative projects in the arts. He can be followed on Twitter @jandrewARTS.