Art Review: Sophia Narrett at Freight + Volume

Art Review: Sophia Narrett, Early in the Game
by Kate Manire MFA 2017 

Some art demands to be observed closely--preferably no more than six inches away. I was thinking about this when I walked into Sophia Narrett’s solo show of wall embroideries at Freight + Volume because, frankly, I was trying to calm my anxiety over the fact that people were getting a little too close. But after seeing her show, titled Early in the Game, I absolutely understood why. There was quite a lot to take in, and although I spent a considerable amount of time there, probably a lot that I missed, too.

Early in the Game is a three-part installation, and each phase begins with a miniature, simplistic image that Narrett calls a “card.” Each card introduces a theme or emotion, which the artists builds on in the following larger, more organically shaped vignette-style compositions. In Card One: Cry, we see a woman at her doorstep, with her head slumped over and a slew of shopping bags. It’s a lonely image, and so are the larger formats that follow: a woman curled up in bed under a framed picture of Entourage’s Ari Gold and next to Aziz Ansari’s book Modern Romance; a box of tissues; a naked man with an erection looking in on a couple in a bank. Although varied and complex, the images in this chapter reflect themes of desolation, commercialism, and eroticism.

Card One: Cry, 2016, embroidery thread and fabric, 3.5 x 2.5 in

Card Two: Wander, sets the tone for the rest of the show which depicts an array of human interactions, often sexual or having to do with conventions of romance. The images are framed with organic branches, fruits and flowers from which hang woven bandages, IV needles and jewelry. Stuck, one of the largest pieces, is a modern Garden of Earthly Delights, although “delight” might be a strong word. In it, nude women, zombie-like and strapped to IVs, are seen entering and leaving a maze while an orgy occurs in what could either be a waterless swimming pool or an empty tomb. When viewed along with the rest of the motifs and scenes in the piece—the oranges, the suburban home with the young, wholesome couple outside— it’s very difficult to say whether Narrett wants us to project our own interpretations or to simply accept her narratives as autobiographical.

Stuck, 2016, embroidery thread and fabric, 62 x 38 in

Unfortunately for us, Card Three: Play and the final pieces of the show produce more questions than answers. In fact, each phase made me increasingly confused. Just as I began to think I was getting somewhere, the rug was pulled out from under me. There were parts that were safe for both relating to the artist and staying separate from her, but no real direction on which one to do and when. This made me especially thankful for the Cards, which allowed me to breathe and focus on a single emotion or experience before jumping back into the melee.

When Your Heart is Open, 2015, embroidery thread and fabric, 36 x 22 in

Narrative content aside, the embroideries are truly a joy to look at. She uses the medium of thread in ways that refer to painting as well as ways that escape the conventions that trap traditional paintings. Of course there is conceptual weight to using embroidery, historically relegated to a “womens’ craft,” and while the pieces certainly engage with notions of gender and domesticity, they also reveal a simple mastery and joy in the act of embroidering. Narrett’s optical color mixing alludes to impressionist paintings, and she embraces the hanging loose-ends of the thread and its potential for intricacy to shape her pieces.

Stuck (detail), 2016

It is always exciting and increasingly rare to find art in which you can clearly see the hand of the creator. It’s doubly so to be able to sense the creator’s tactile engagement in the piece just by looking at it. As artists, we are especially sensitive to this in everything we encounter, which perhaps is why I responded to Early in the Game so strongly. Narrett’s obvious care for and engagement with her chosen material is what will bring me back to her next show. 

Art Review: Coming to Power at Maccarone Gallery

Art Review: "Coming to Power" at Maccarone Gallery
by Anastasiya Tarasenko MFA 2017

Alice Neel Nadya Nude, 1933

Just as our own Take Home a Nude auction is right around the corner, “Coming to Power” offers a scintillating look inside the world of the artist, for whom the forbidden fruit hangs low and always within reach. While sexual imagery used to be the exclusive domain of male artists for male consumers “Coming to Power: 25 Years of Women Making Sexually Explicit Art” turns our attention to the female gaze, as it recreates the landmark 1993 exhibition at the David Zwirner gallery.

Nancy Fried Her Home, 1980

The walls are painted black, charging the space appropriately with a velvety, dark atmosphere. Scrapbooking, collage, fabric, metal, lacquer finish, feathers, and ribbons, all craft elements, traditional “women’s arts”, are subverted, demented, criticized, and celebrated in equal measure as beautifully exemplified in Nancy Fried’s small works on a bread-like surface made with flour and salt. Each one is sculpted and painted, depicting scenes of intercourse, masturbation, or simply, naked domestic life.

Monica Majoli, Untitle (Bathtub Orgy), 1990

With the exception of phallic symbolism in many of the works, the majority directed the female gaze onto female bodies. One of the few paintings featuring an all male cast was Monica Majoli’s “Untitled (Bathtub Orgy)”, 1990. This small, meticulously painted image features a group of men in a dark room surrounding and urinating on a man, both in agony and ecstasy, draped over in the tub in a pose similar to that of Jesus in Michelangelo's “Pieta”.

Installation view of video display

In the room next to the main exhibition space, the visitor is invited to sit (or lay) on a large, furry throw, put on headphones, and watch an instructional video entitled “Sluts and Goddesses” by Annie Sprinkle and Maria Beatty, a 75 minute how-to guide for sexual enlightenment. This was one of the more interesting choices of video on display as it was not a conceptual art piece in its inception but the context of a gallery space lends it a more refined perspective.

The exhibition is open until October 16th at the Maccarone Gallery and features works by Alice Neel, Yoko Ono, Nicole Eisenman and many other distinguished women in the art world. 

Art Review: Jonathan Gardner at Casey Kaplan Gallery

Art Review: Jonathan Gardner at Casey Kaplan Gallery
by Stephanie del Carpio MFA 2017

"Bather with a Yellow Towel" 
As artists, and more so as painters, we have a complex relationship to the past. Jonathan Gardner embraces it and reinvents it into a wonderful pastiche of figures and patterns. His reverence for art history feels genuine and the historical references he utilizes never feel forced – but are rather a quirky yet deliberate celebration of those that came before us. 

 Looking at his paintings is a joy to art history buffs and amateurs alike. You can almost play a game of “name the modern master” with every painting. On the roster one quickly comes across Matisse, Cezanne, Balthus, Picasso, Dali, and if you look carefully, you may even spot a dog resembling that of a Roman era mosaic in the painting entitled, “Connection.” The figure in “Bather with a Yellow Towel,” recalls an ancient Egyptian pose in the position of her feet and body posture. A favorite moment comes in the form of a cheeky nod to the Rococo, as the “Reclining Nude” looks back toward her purposeful exposed posterior while expertly displaying her top half.
"Reclining Nude"
With a play on medieval perspective, he develops intricately composed interiors only to splice them into mismatched mirror images, to the benefit of the stylized figures that inhabit them. The relationship between model and artist is also at play here. In “The Model,” Gardner depicts a would be painter maneuvering their canvas as the model looks on. There is also a repeated use of the “painting within a painting,” which works to negate any potentially perspectival spatial logic. Gardner's aim is not an illusionistic kind of painting – after all, he is a student of the Chicago Imagists and their penchant for fantastical caricature comes across loud and clear. Not unlike Roger Brown and Barbara Rossi, Gardner uses patterns to compose his interiors, creating a color and linear harmony while developing impossible reflections. His compositions are methodical. In each square inch he presents a give and pull of color blocks and shapes that fill up the canvases like puzzle pieces - what starts on one corner continues on the opposite side and what creeps in below reemerges on top.
"The Model"

Being a figurative painter in this day and age is a tricky business – how much of a nod to the past is too much? In his first New York solo exhibition, Jonathan Gardner is successful in playfully demonstrating his love of art history, in a very serious way. The monumental size of his canvases speak of the weight and responsibility that is being the next link in the long chain of representational and figurative oil painters. 
"Dark Mirror"
"In the Mirror"

"Salmon Sofa"