A large jesmonite slab sits against a side wall of the project space. Molded within a Perspex frame, DUO 14 (all works 2015) mixes jesmonite with digital prints, paper, and pigments, resulting in a surface as luxuriously mineral as it is eerily evanescent. Peles Empire, the collaborative alias for artists Katharina Stoever & Barbara Wolff, exploits the malleability of industrial and digital forms to materialize the shipwreck of history: Images float to the surface like spume from wreckage, only to dissolve into the corrosive bath of the sea. In other words, they break apart as quickly as they appear. The imagery of DUO 14 is translated and transmitted from an interior scene of Peles Castle, an actual Baroque castle situated in the Carpathian Mountains in Romania (the same structure after which the duo is named). The artists have modified the print so that the slab appears as a blurry abstraction—as if the digital file has degraded to such a degree that it has transformed into a precious mineral. Resplendent in texture, there is an oblique sense of collapse to this geological form.
Adjacent to DUO 14, is tilt up 1, a photo mural arranged and pasted together from a grid of photographs that expands across the entire back wall, buttressed by two slender blocks of jesmonite. The entire mural, which is formed from a collection of smaller photographs, depicts a deinstallation of the duo’s previous exhibition at Schindler’s House in Los Angeles. Rudolph Schindler was known for the tilt-up method, where concrete walls were seamlessly slotted on site. In contrast to Schindler’s method, the tilt-up method deployed by Peles Empire is more haphazard. Below this mural, crushed and crumpled on the ground at the base of tilt up, is another sizable photo mural, titled tilt up 2. It lies slumped on the ground as if it had buckled under the weight of gravity, fallen from the wall from which it previously hung. In its degraded state, the work prefigures, perhaps, a disaster to come.
Curated by Luc Tuymans, this selection of Belgian abstraction spanning two generations and fifteen artists—hence the “gap” of the title—is not what is to be expected. The Belgian painter describes the works as possessing “an element of concreteness.” This notion embraces both the physicality of Pieter Vermeersch’s Untitled, 2015, where swipes of rich oil paint are dabbed on a slab of striated marble, and the witty, vegetable-sized bronze cast Brussels Sprout, 2012, by Gert Robijns—perhaps a play on the name of their capital but certainly reality made abstract by casting.
Tuymans anchors his exhibition with Francis Alys’s television-test-pattern paintings and several Raoul de Keysers, including a standing work derived from the lines of a soccer field, Zevende Linnen Doos, 1971. These pieces counterpose the exhibition’s nonrepresentational centerpiece, an installation by duo Carla Arocha & Stephane Schraenen, Column, 2015, a matrix of mirrored squares hung around a painted column, situated on the gallery’s two floors. The work resembles a glittering, reflective piece of optical geometric abstraction in three dimensions, while its colors and structure echo the adjacent Philippe Van Snick geometric wall painting, Transition, 2015, also sited on both levels. Transition consists of a single column-width line bisecting a rectangle, which suggests day and night with bright and dark colors respectively. Despite the visual richness of his selection, Tuymans’s selection veers towards a more cerebral rather than an expressionistic sensibility.
In the abstract, it seems merely provocative to pair John Riddy’s recent photographs of South Africa’s Cape Peninsula with drawings by the self-taught American artist James Castle. Riddy is a British photographer of exquisite technical precision, while Castle, deaf and illiterate, worked in almost complete obscurity until his death in 1977, turning found materials such as packing boxes and kitchen twine into sculpture, books, and drawings.
Castle has been the subject of two major retrospectives since 2008, both of which struggled with the influence of his biography on the reading of his work. Focusing on just one vein of Castle’s prolific output here—his “farmscapes,” depictions in soot and saliva of the land around his Idaho home—foregrounds the formal qualities of the eleven drawings themselves over questions about the shuttered psyche behind them.
These pieces share a vocabulary of barns, gables, pilons, and power lines; yet in both, banal subjects viewed dead-on can remain strangely unknowable. In Castle’s Untitled (farmscape with forms) (all works undated), we can easily read picture-book trees and rectilinear sheds; but beneath them, wet squiggles repeat a form resembling a letter from an unknown alphabet. Riddy’s unrelentingly sharp focus articulates too clearly, compressing space and warping objects. In Peninsula (Redhill 7), 2014, trailers in a valley have diamond-cut contours but uncertain weight, dimension, or distance from the viewer. Of course, this pairing shatters expectations of photographic objectivity or “outsider” subjectivity, but better yet, the formal enigmas of Riddy’s floating trailers and Castle’s squiggle symbols will find their partners if one looks close enough.
Michael Krebber’s latest paintings are all gesturo-minimalism—little marks and dabs staining otherwise pristine canvases. At least the ones on the ground floor, the clear highlights of this exhibition, demonstrating the limits a painting can reach while still remaining a painting. MP-KREBM-00090 (all works 2015), is just a copper dash running down the right side of the canvas: a scar that will never heal. MP-KREBM-0089: pure rhythm and splotch. Two thick marine blue handles sit at center roughly equidistant from the sides of the canvas. There is a lighter blue dash in the upper right corner. On the left, there’s that copper dab again, this time a bit smaller—an afterthought, we’d call it, if it didn’t seem so considered.
Upstairs, the canvases are nearly all completely covered in paint. MP-KREBM-00092 limits itself to blues of varied hues. Its centerpiece is a whirl that resembles a tornado funnel. The most densely structured painting in the show is MP-KREBM-00091, with its inferences of architectural structures looming somewhere beneath the layers of blue and yellow. Still, Krebber sticks to a general anti-alloverness in these works. Rounding it all up are four pieces rendered in paper with ballpoint pen. Among these, there is a treelike swirl to MP-KREBM-00097, while MP-KREBM-00098 leaves us with an earlike curve.
Within this retrospective, there is a small, darkly lit room containing a collection of works on paper made throughout Agnes Martin’s career. The room functions as a miniretrospective, where drawing is positioned as a spiral from which to view the vertiginous movement of Martin’s practice as a whole. The movement is the act of decreation. Martin’s watercolor Summer, 1964, figures decreation as bathos: The viewer is invited to plunge headfirst into the surface of her watercolor, only to drown in its content, as if the viewer were overwhelmed by its pull downward to the depths of the picture.
In Martin’s case, the act of reworking is not figured as ascension to a higher order, but descent and compulsion to a fallen state. Untitled, 1966, an ink wash on paper, emits a darker image where a grid is articulated by white lines on a black ground. The perfection of a blank surface is exchanged for slight imperfections of a series of pencil marks. The small work Balconies, 1962, enacts this double movement of decreation as a type of caesura. Horizontal lines of unequal length parry angled vertical markings. The movement oscillates, without resolution, between them. Placing the grid at an angle disrupts a view of the world as one of order. The descent is a mark of the brokenness of that world’s fall.
Hinging on material and semantic ambivalence, London-based Dutch artist Magali Reus’s work incorporates such quotidian objects as seats and fridges to delineate the contours of social space and explore the limits of our interactions within the technological realm. Her small, casted and milled objects, be they representational or abstract, are here set to perform. Viewers might be tempted to analyze their behavior as much as their formal qualities.
For her recent sculptures on view, Reus employs references to sidewalk curbs, as in the series “In Place Of,” 2015, and padlocks, as in “Leaves,” 2015. The former recalls public space and its delimitation of the daily routines of both machines and humans. The artist places her works within the tension between man-made and technologically produced items, as the slick finish of her surfaces, drawn from minimalist dogma, clash with the prosaic nature of the iconographies they shape. With an air of a stage, the curbs here are host to impeccably manufactured content that unfolds before us as we bend down to observe it in perplexity.
The works in “Leaves,” sculptures reminiscent of padlocks, hang on the wall. Enlarged and functionless, they host graphic references to calendars on their surfaces but resist interpretation while providing another set of dichotomies. They protect, but they exclude. Do we not invariably unlock ourselves by way of most of our quotidian moves on the Internet? Reus presents these locks as if pursuing the illusion of a protected, interior realm; the virtual puts the real to the test, yet hermeticism persists.