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Caroline Kent: A set of symbols

Caroline Kent, installation view, at Casey Kaplan. At left: Untitled (Obelisk), 2021,walnut, 80 x 7.75 x 7.75 inches

Contributed by Jonathan Goodman / Caroline Kent, a painter based in Chicago, is having her first show at Casey Kaplan. She makes schematic abstract paintings, which have aspects of doubled, mirror-like imagery. An underlying fiction of her art is the presence of twins, Victoria and Veronica, who speak to each other and to the painter’s audience via the works she creates. Kent’s sign-like abstraction involves a set of symbols whose meaning depends not on any explicitly prescribed content but rather on their visual orientation in terms of form and placement.

Caroline Kent, A Most Fantastic Discovery, 2021, acrylic on unstretched canvas, 104 x 81.75 inches

Kent is painting in a deliberately obscure mode, reinforcing this sensibility by including letters and bits of words that make no sense except as formal flourishes. At the top of A Most Fantastic Discovery (2021), an orange form has arms extending left, which travel over a pink, squarish form with rough edges. A yellow vase-like shape with an extended thin support sits next to a small, light mauve hourglass figure. Along the bottom part of the painting, there are several abstract forms – a green column with a bulbous head enclosed within a rectangle, a dark brownish-pink shape resembling an extracted tooth, and several small clusters of the letter “m” connected to one another. Kent’s audience might want to make semantic sense of the letters, but they seem to be incorporated only for visual reasons.

Caroline Kent, Of Varying Degrees, 2021, acrylic on canvas, 50.25 x 30 inches

In Of Varying Degrees (2021), a nicely restrained painting, a reticence prevails. Green polyhedrons with mostly curved edges occupy the upper and lower halves of the work. They stand over gray, similarly shaped forms, while on the upper left and the lower right two inchoate pink forms embellish very dark ground. The painting, though chromatically subtle, manifests a kind of low-lit euphoria. In Pursuit of Lesser-Known Ambitions (2021), three black forms, two of them triangular, are set at equal distance from an upside-down “U” at the painting’s center against a tan background. A right-angled line on the upper left and a bowl-shaped form on the upper right round out the picture. Flanking both sides of the painting are slim wooden posts. Like most other pieces in the show, this one scans as a study of the visual and psychological impact of emblems that compel the viewer to search for verbal meaning that remains elusive.  

Caroline Kent, Pursuit of Lesser-known Ambitions, 2021, acrylic on raw Belgian linen, acrylic on wood, 63 x 74 x 1.5 inches
Caroline Kent, In the company of strangers, 2021, acrylic on unstretched canvas, 104.75 x 82.25 inches
Caroline Kent, Night Emporium, 2021, acrylic on unstretched canvas, 101 x 81.25 inches

The walnut column Untitled (Obelisk) (2021) is 80 inches tall and reminiscent of a Brancusi, the two halves of the work narrowing slightly in the middle. Incised an inch or so into the surface are the abstract forms often found in Kent’s paintings – another example of her predilection for signs that look as if they are meant to be read but yield no apparent meaning. This stern monolith induces viewers to halt their quest for intelligibility more readily than the paintings do. But Kent’s overarching intention persists: to present glyphs confirming an abstract logic that can be intuited but resists analytic scrutiny. Even if the visual symbols lack overt content, they obliquely reference a language yet to be deciphered. Thus, Kent’s measured yet beguiling work carries hidden weight.

Caroline Kent: Proclamations From the Deep,” Casey Kaplan, 121 West 27th Street, New York, NY. Through October 23, 2021.

About the author: Jonathan Goodman is an art writer and poet who focuses on modern and contemporary sculpture. He currently teaches at Pratt Institute.

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