Formalism Shifted

Six artists who share willingness to explore classicism’s playful contradictions

“Contra/Post,” at the James Graham Gallery, features six artists whose play on formal considerations tie them together. Joe Fyfe, James Hyde, Ross Knight, Ruth Root, Nancy Shaver, and Dan Walsh share this small gallery space reminiscent of an East Village storefront from yesteryear.

Contrapposto, a term used in classical Greek statuary to describe the shifting of weight to one side, sets up one of the main ideas of this show. At first glance, most of the works seem minimally colored, formal in conception, and classically ridged, but upon closer inspection playful contradictions are revealed, and each work throws off their formal illusions. Imagine Judd with knicks and scratches, a Newman with a distressed surfaced, a Mondrian drawn crooked, or an Ellsworth Kelly shape gone nuts. It seems that by the destruction of Modernism’s idealistic trappings, beauty, and aesthetics can overthrow the postmodern cynical stance.

Joe Fyfe’s painting “Gilles,” 2003, a pigment soaked burlap square, with a painted band of blue, establishes pictorial tension while a curved green stripe throws all formal rules away. Ross Knight’s sculpture “Curved Back,” 2003 uses aluminum pipe to draw a vacant center and support an iridescent jagged picture plane. Ruth Root’s “Untitled,” 2002-2003, a shaped, two-toned purple enamel on aluminum wall piece, establishes a horizontal edge within a cartooned idea bubble and uses the white wall to establish a quirky figure-to-ground relationship. James Hydes’ “Tree,” 2003 deconstructs the idea of a picture’s structure and reconstructs it into a wooden zigzag resting on clear vinyl. Dan Walsh’s “Project,” 1997 painting dismantles and reconstructs the grid painting with hand painted lines while Nancy Shaver’s “Yellow and Black Horizonals and Red and Green Verticals,” 2003 stacked wall relief sculpture uses reassembled wooden materials with paint to collapse time and shift art categories.

It seems that all these artists are involved with a funky formalism and as a group create a show full of light, beauty, and unexpected visual puns reminding us that even established structures can shift and will not be taken for granted.

Pictured above

Painter Joe Fyfe’s “Gilles, 2003,”

acrylic on burlap, on display at James Graham & Sons.

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