Iman Issa

123 Charing Cross Road
March 14–May 16

Iman Issa, Labouring (study 2012), 2012, mahogany, sculpture, text panel under glass, white plinth, 15 1/2 x 12".

With the seminal 1965 piece One and Three Chairs artist Joseph Kosuth laid down a semiotic three-of-a-kind and dared viewers to call his bluff. For the exhibition “Lexicon,” Iman Issa slyly tweaks this format, finding her referents not in functional objects like chairs, but rather in something more difficult to define: a series of paintings. While they themselves are not on view, we are told that they vary in style, subject matter, and setting and that they are unified only by a shared attempt to convey a significance greater than the narrative sum of their content—in short, they are paintings that aim to mean something.

The artist offers two interpretations of each painting, coupling a text that describes the scene, technique, and dimensions of the work with sculptural objects riffing on the essence of each image. Issa endows these latter forms with fluidity, elegance, and economy, crafting sleek constructions of unadorned materials such as aluminum, mahogany, and walnut.

The collected installation could risk reading more like a showroom of fetishized design objects than semiotic play, but Issa maintains tension by emphasizing the extremes in interpretation. For instance, the paragraph accompanying Seduction (study for 2014), 2014, details a man reaching for a bird while a woman twirls her hair under what is described as a “perfectly round sun.” The sculptural component consists of two lines laid flat on a low horizontal plinth. The first is aluminum and completely straight while the second is bronze and juts out at uneven intervals, like the fringes of a city skyline. What is produced is a dictionary that develops more than it defines.

Kate Sutton

Carol Bove

24 Grafton Street
April 13–May 30

Carol Bove, I, quartz pyx, who fling muck beds., 2015, concrete and brass, 83 1/4 x 23 5/8 x 24 7/8".

Carol Bove’s “The Plastic Unit” activates a space of tension between sculptures, generating a to-and-fro pull of attraction and repulsion between works that breeds analogies and contradictions, continuities and discontinuities. The artist mobilizes a range of procedures and materials through an array of works: intricately arranged assemblages, compositions of fused steel and petrified wood, reliefs of delicately arranged peacock feathers and shells, and sculptures made of zinc-plated steel as well as concrete and brass. In Circles, 2015, a weather-beaten block of redwood is punctured by white stainless-steel tubes, bringing an ancient organic material into communion with the ur material of modernism. While an unmistakable pathos marks Bove’s use of petrified wood in Lingam, 2014, there is indestructible newness to her use of steel. Interpretation drifts between the psychedelic and hallucinatory to the pensive and melancholic.

Bove bends and crushes steel as if it were Plasticine. In Self Talk, 2015, the metal is softened as if it were malleable; the surface is covered with lurid urethane paint, which negates its harsh materiality. The work might be interpreted as glyphs, where signifier is abstracted from syntax. On the third floor of the gallery, Bove has installed an expansive work, Untitled, 2015, of clipped peacock feathers, which are affixed to canvas. The surface wavers along an iridescent spectrum, vivid greens to muddy browns creating a delirious picture: Drawing one into a whirlpool, each eye of the thousands of feathers catches one’s own in the currents of a spiral. When the eye is drawn in by this picture, thought merges with its material.

Andrew Witt

Lydia Gifford

4 Herald Street
March 26–May 10

Lydia Gifford, Bearing, 2015, wood, hessian, ink, oil stick, acrylic, 16 1/2 x 15 3/4 x 2".

A dense and irregular sense of materiality saturates Lydia Gifford’s paintings. Her canvases are uneven, misshapen, and disfigured. Surfaces are ragged and broken; her paint is improvised and layered; her marks textured and contingent on the uneven folds of her supports. The ground feeds off her paint parasitically and vice versa. One cannot live without the other, and the result is that her surfaces appear ruined. Gifford’s work echoes Robert Ryman’s sustained use of unusual supports—bristol board, Chemex, coffee filter paper, fiberglass—as means to introduce variety into the monochrome. Surveyed from the outside, the monochrome appears as impossibility; viewed from the inside, within the process, the monochrome endures. Similar to Rymans', Gifford’s work is the continuation of the monochrome as a problematic.

How does the monochrome persist? In the case of Ryman, white paint is placed in tension with the dull colors of his support, sparring with them. In Gifford’s series, “Brace (I, II, III),” 2015, wood, cotton, cloth, and nails are combined to rework the canvas like an object. The lower half of the painting bulges, resembling a wave, while nails punctuate, pin, and fold the canvas in a taut and regulating fashion. Gifford mobilizes the monochrome to challenge the depth and flatness of the field. The title of the exhibition, “To. For. With,” emphasizes a relational condition: painting as preposition, painting as relation. These paintings force us to query: What relations does the monochrome engender? The two qualities of Gifford’s process—prepositional and parasitic—dovetail with one another. Her work entangles a series of movements that challenge and undermine the status of the monochrome as enigma.

Andrew Witt

Isa Genzken

23 Savile Row
March 26–May 16

Isa Genzken, Geldbild IV, 2014, bills, coins, flyer, acrylic on canvas, 39 1/2 x 19 5/8".

Money flattens all distinctions. For Isa Genzken’s “Geldbilder,” 2014, her series of “money pictures,” bank notes and coins are glued and fastened in raw form to her canvas in constellations, absent of meaning. Genzken hints at the autobiographical by including photographs of herself. We should make a parallel reading with Raoul Hausmann’s ABCD, 1923–24, where a bank note, in its diminished and hyper-inflated state, is assembled alongside a screaming portrait. In Genzken’s “Geldbilder,” like Hausmann’s work, the concrete particularities of a life are marshaled alongside the abstractions of the social. Money is precisely this force of abstraction.

On Genzken’s canvas, paint is quick and garish. Globs are shot straight onto the canvas or in some instances streaked and sprayed across the painting. The gestures are erratic. Her paintings are said to literally “hold” money, as if the surface were a wallet or pocket. In these pictures, however, use value is eclipsed by exchange value. Money begets more money. In the same breath, notes and coins operate as a painterly detail: an abstraction among other abstractions—pure visual equivalence. In some sections, notes and coins have been removed. What remains on the surface is a trace of a former presence.

The language of money is a language conceived without limits. Any desire can be purchased, no price too high. Money has a double valence: It is both a material thing and an abstract sign. Painting, at times, is envisioned in the same light. And yet the trouble with Genzken’s pictures is that they threaten to simplify interpretation: We should resist vulgar analogies (paintings = money / money = paintings). Genzken’s “Geldbilder” counters this logic. If these paintings hold anything, it is a desire that lacks specificity.

Andrew Witt