"A mirror, a dish, a window" Curated by Elizabeth Lalley
A mirror, a dish, a window is a group show of works by six artists Zakkiyyah Najeebah Dumas-O’Neal, Lesley Jackson, James Kao, Minami Kobayashi, Emily Sher, and Anne Toebbe curated by Elizabeth Lalley and presented by Goldfinch Gallery. A mirror, a dish, a window, are all namable things that can be found inside a home. The title read a little differently might allude to common modes of art making, mirror: the self-portrait, dish: the still life, the window: a limited view of the landscape or window as a reference to the portal-like function of the painting itself. These three objects can be unassuming, functional, everyday objects or extravagant and awe inspiring, depending on your particular abode. Words often speak puzzles, but here I think that they are used to speak to recognition and invite the spectator inside through their familiarity.
The show occupies the small anterior room of the main gallery and consists of objects, paintings, drawings and photography. The room has a large window with leaves and branches pushed against it, I couldn't help but think of Beauford Delaney’s window in Clamart, France and the stunning abstractions that came from his looking through it. The wonder of light and air is that it never rests, it shivers but never stills. Natural light makes us even more aware of the stillness of pictures and careful placement of things. Jackson’s “Epergne II” and “Little Green Pot Holder” occupy the floor and set the stage for the show. Both objects make me wonder if the artist is old enough for these to be nostalgic of late 90’s décor or if I am just too old to not see these as such. Sher’s “Lemon Rose Vase,” adorned with wild flowers, along with those above mentioned pieces dictate the layout of the show’s two-dimensional work. These objects are placed with great intention to insert some unpredictable organic shapes into the rectilinear artworks that surround them.
Closest to the window is a ladylike table with a precarious pile of dinnerware. “Full Service Set” by Emily Sher is made up of cups, dishes and platters but it is difficult to think of its pieces as separatable. The current arrangement is too particular and curious for me to consider its use for something as normal as dining. Like a cairn greets you at a sacred site holding in its being human intention, this pile of earthenware, like the stone piles, asks gravity to collaborate. Another artwork that beholds gravity as subject is Dorothea Tanning’s “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik”, where the rules of gravity are skewed and unexpected. In the painting, all the forms; girls, sunflower, stairs, door, are namable but like Sher’s piece they reside in a space of otherness. The lattice and fruit decoration reminds me of Italian majolica fruit trees but the palette here is of the earth, more reminiscent of the palette of a Leonora Carrington painting in the Art Institute of Chicago than the bright yellows, reds and greens of the alabaster fruits from Volterra.
Opposite this windowed wall is an arrangement of 3 paintings and another grouping of pottery, this time with the addition of wildflowers. This moment in the show could be taken straight from someone’s living room. Two of the paintings are by Minami Kobayashi, “One of the Twin”and “Behind Me”, both have that lovely surface and matte touch of egg tempera. They are the same size and a limited color palette but this is where the two painting’s similarities end. “One of Twin”, reminds me of a 1960’s fashion illustration or what an Alex Katz painting might look like stripped down to it’s initial gesture drawing. The figure further from us has an unnerving, pouty gaze and blank stare. The repeated green forms create visual rhythm, it is the green of girl scout uniforms, making me wonder if this androgynous person is a child. The figure closest to us is severely cropped so that we see only an ear, a sliver of face and their green hair wrapped in a kerchief. “Behind Me” has the centrality of Leonardo DaVinci’s “Salvator Mundi”. I read the composition similar to a Byzantine icon or a landscape. Either strategy creates a visual path and a context in which to consider the words of the artist’s title “Behind Me”. What I always enjoy about Kobayashi’s paintings is the way she uses memory and imagination to unearth a new reality. Baudelaire called memory “The queen of all faculties”and her work reminds us of that. Kobayashi’s painted moments feel unfixed and fleeting in their abbreviations. The pleasure of the making of this work is felt.
There are two additional painters in the show, Anne Toebbe and James Kao as well as the artist Zakkiyyah Najeebah Dumas-O’Neal who is represented by a series of photographs and a drawing that asks “Did you Make it Home?”. Toebbe’s subjects are domestic interiors, rooms as pretty as a picture in an issue of Architectural Digest. The focus on the stuff that occupies these spaces have an almost terrifying clarity. Toebee avoids the look of both photographic and observed space, opting for a flattened decorative space more akin to a spatial dilemma of David Hockney’s work, an Egyptian wall painting or a Russian Icon painting. David Hockney is known to say “correct perspective is overrated”, and I’d have to agree. The perspectival choices in Toebbe’s paintings feel inspired and inspiring.
Kao’s drawings are the most mysterious in the room, they ask to be looked at closer. The color palettes used are harmonious, rhythmic and lure you in. The techniques in these pieces are varied and have an unpredictability, a search about them. With titles like “Escarpment”, “Limberlost”, “Range” and “The wind comes home” and perhaps because they are horizontal, they feel like landscapes even when they are not obviously such. I see unburdened exploration and perceptual play.
Dumas-O’Neal’s photos are also horizontal compositions, but these are apartment-scapes. A series of small black and white photos with text. If I see them as film stills with their yellow subtitles, I begin to get the sense of a translation happening from one language to another or one source to another. They are hung in a quiet recessed alcove space in the gallery.
How does one put together an exhibition after the whole world so recently had the tablecloth slipped out from under it? A mirror, a dish, a window answers with modesty, the work on the walls could all fit in a small suitcase, it is humble. Nothing yells out to you or shakes you out of the present. There is no sex, death, struggle or awe. It does have an air of nostalgia for simpler times, but not for a bygone era. Instead it seems to recall specifically the first phase of quarantine, that month and a half after Corona first arrived in the United States and everything was shutting down including our daily habits and affirmations that got us out of bed in the morning. Those first few weeks when fear and unknown guided the paused world, and if we had one, we were safe in our homes. Hypochondria aside, the allotted time if you had it was needed, even with the feelings of impending doom, we artists worked through it. In these early days, people on social media were so gentle and sweet, sharing artworks they admired, their love and support for artists. We were important all of a sudden, in times of sickness we found we exist! Instant messages and texts from friends and acquaintances checking in asking, “how are you doing”? We keep hearing the words tenderness, intimacy, reciprocity in the art world naturally as a counterbalance to the violence, death, shame and blame of the present state of our shook world, but are those words beginning to lose their meaning? A roommate in college and I used to lay in our beds and say words over and over again until they were drained of their meaning and became nonsensical sounds, we would laugh so hard our stomachs hurt. We laugh a little every time someone says unprecedented times, but aren’t they? Nothing is ordinary anymore.
A mirror, a dish, a window is by appointment only, reserve your date and time online before October 17th.