GARY STEPHAN 20 March â€“ 26 April 2014
Susan Inglett Gallery, NYC
Seeing the World Through the Weave: On Gary Stephan’s New Paintings The principal words we use to refer to our current communications environment are derived from one of the most ancient practices of making: weaving. There is surely something fundamental in our experience of the structure of communication as a Web or Network. A web is a woven fabric, the structural part of cloth, and a net is the openwork fabric of threads or cords or bands that are woven or knotted together at regular intervals to form this fabric. “Band” and “net” are both derived from words that mean to tie, bind, or connect. We desperately want to be included in this Network, this weaving, and to be thus constantly connected, so much so that the very idea that we might be outside of the Web, or that there is anything outside of the Net or the Web, is, at this point, almost unimaginable. To be outside of it, we would have to see the Web or Net as a construction, a made thing, and that is becoming as difficult as it once was to conceive of being outside of Nature. The Net has become our Nature (second nature), but it is one that we have created. As Vilém Flusser said about technical images, we have effectively forgotten that we made the Web, and tend to see it as pre-existent, and acheiropoetic (not made by hand). One response to the increasing automaticity of communications is the persistent desire to actually reach out and touch someone, with hands and eyes, through the weave. This may be one reason why abstract painting, declared obsolete repeatedly in the postmodern period, is currently the site of such tremendous energy and diversity. The basic underlying structure of a painting—woven cloth stretched over a wooden frame—has again become a stage for a rich variety of pictorial and perceptual acts. In Gary Stephan’s new paintings, bands of brushed paint often appear as if woven over the surface of the painting. These bands initially assert the thingness of the painting itself, as paint on woven cloth pulled over stretcher bars, but then become agents of utter contingency, enacting fictive spaces and exploring compelling pictorial ideas. “Hidden in the Word” depicts a barrel form centered in a field of blue gray. The barrel shape is made of bright yellow staves that form a cross in the center. The yellow barrel has four black “feet” that are echoed in six irregular blackshapes scattered across a horizontal field of yellow bands in the lower quarter of the frame. These lower bands are closely fit, with no gaps, but the bands in the barrel loosen to allow a glimpse of the gessoed ground of the painting below. The irregular black shapes animate the composition, making it dance. Two vestigial pentimenti growing off the heels of the barrel’s back feet enhance the sensation of movement. The gaps in the weave of “Hidden in the Word,” allowing us to see through the painting to the structure itself, is something that only happens in painting, not in the world outside of painting. In the larger world of appearances, the underlying structure is hidden, entirely concealed within phenomena. In “Untitled, 2013,” one might first see four shapes cut into a banded surface that acts as a rickety fence: a square in the upper right corner, an isosceles triangle in the lower right, and two stacked octagons on the left. The lower octagon has the proportions of a stop sign, while the larger octagon above appears stretched. Each geometric shape has black bands on its edges. The black bands on two sides of the square describe a smaller white square in the lower left. The narrower black bands on the two equal sides of the triangle describe a smaller right angle triangle in white within. The black band in the lower octagon acts as a base, or pool within the shape. And the black bands in the larger octagon cut an angle that echoes the triangle below. Since the black bands on three of the four shapes are narrow, it takes a bit of time to see the shapes as apertures cut into the banded field, concealing a large white square with a thick black border around it. The dominant form “underneath” is put together, over time, by the eye, and then disassembled when the focus moves to the shapes of the openings, and back again. The perspectival shift in the planes and geometric forms moves because we move.
The illusion is sustained through the intricacy of the construction of opacity and transparency that carries the eye through a whole series of hesitations and conclusions. In a larger painting, a stack of horizontal acid yellow bands like crumpled blinds (curtained by contours of cream-colored drapes) are surmounted by a white rectangle with an off-center square opening in it. Prompted by the apparent continuity of the bands outside and within the opening, we are unsettled when some of the bands don’t line up. The bold graphics of these paintings gives us confidence in their verisimilitude and direct dealing, but this confidence is constantly being undercut upon closer examination. The rhythm of this erosion is irregular, but palpable. It’s the rhythm of apprehension. In “Small Mental Furniture,” a series of three vertical paintings depict chair-like objects seen from an impossible angle. Each painting shows a square woven frame sitting on two diagonal tubular legs, with a rigid center vertical column bisecting the frame. From a distance, again, the graphic boldness of the compositions gives one confidence in their ready legibility, but the closer one looks, the more things waver and vacillate and hum. What appeared to be a straightforward frame-and-background situation begins to dissolve, as the centered squares come forcefully forward as strong emblematic forms, each with three vertical bands of color (two different blues cut by white and umber, and white cut by black), like flags, overwhelming their frames. The movement between these dominant emblematic forms, the piston thrust of the vertical columns, and the lift of the splayed legs, which are now seen to be conduits leaking paint into the bottom corners, is dynamic and thrilling. Our engagement with these paintings is reciprocated at every turn, so the dance continues. The communication is not at all automatic or one-sided. It’s a conversation, with its own warp and woof and twists and turns. When I first saw the large painting at the center of Stephan’s show in June 2013 at architect Steven Holl’s ‘T’ Space building in the Hudson Valley, I was drawn into it immediately. In the center of a lattice-work field of fairly regular translucent blue bands over a black ground appears a horizontal bell-shape within which the blue bands are diffused and blurred, and through which vibrant yellow peeks. The bellshaped field is lifted off the underlying grid and given force and direction by two brown diagonal bars, and the edges of two others, moving out of the frame. I told Stephan later that my response to the painting felt a bit illicit. What I meant was that I felt uncertain about the relation between my undeniable pleasure in the visual illusion of the painting, and the actual construction of that fiction. In that case, the illusion was of illumination—light breaking through the surface, coming through the weave. It was a guilty pleasure, because it was so irresistible, as compelling as a sunrise. Why a sunrise and not a sunset? Because of the hue of the blue, but also because of the incipient offer of a beginning, in the way the painting was made. In tying the look of the painting to its actual construction, the ground rules are set early in our involvement. If “naturalism” is to occur, it will come in through the front door, on its own, and we will be glad to see it. Stephan’s paintings are a conversation—with the visible world, first, the world of appearances, and then with other engaged observers. Each painting is an invitation, carefully and generously proffered. In these paintings, the initial kind of direct insistence on the physical structure of the object in front of us and the measured but direct elaboration of forms and colors draws us into the works in layers. And this sets up the situation of looking through the bands, the weave of the bands, to the ground behind, and the participatory illusions of depth and movement that result from that. In the end, it turns out that this depth is real, because it is perceptually cogent. And there is a great pleasure in that recognition, of how we continue to make the world up, through perceiving it. David Levi Strauss New York, NY March 2014
David Levi Strauss is the author of Words Not Spent Today Buy Smaller Images Tomorrow (Aperture, 2014), From Head to Hand: Art and the Manual (Oxford University Press, 2010), Between the Eyes: Essays on Photography and Politics, with an introduction by John Berger (Aperture 2003), and Between Dog & Wolf: Essays on Art and Politics (Autonomedia 1999, and a new edition with a prolegomenon by Hakim Bey, 2010). He is Chair of the graduate program in Art Criticism & Writing at the School of Visual Arts in New York.
Installation View, 2014. Susan Inglett Gallery, NYC.
Samothrace, 2013. Acrylic/canvas, 56 x 70 in.
Small Mental Furniture (Black and White), 2013. Acrylic/canvas, 40 x 30 in.
Small Mental Furniture (Red and Blue), 2013. Acrylic/canvas, 40 x 30 in.
Small Mental Furniture (White and Blue), 2013. Acrylic/canvas, 40 x 30 in.
Untitled, 2014. Acrylic/canvas, 48 x 60 in.
Untitled, 2014. Acrylic/canvas, 56 x 70 in.
Hidden in The Word, 2013. Acrylic/canvas, 40 x 30 in.
Untitled, 1988/2013. Acrylic/linen, 24 x 18 in.
Untitled, 2008/2013. Acrylic/canvas, 30 x 30 in.
Untitled, 2013. Acrylic/canvas, 30 x 30 in.
Untitled, 1988-2013. Acrylic/canvas, 15 x 15 in.
Installation View, 2014. Susan Inglett Gallery, NYC.
GARY STEPHAN 1942 Born in Brooklyn, NY San Francisco Art Institute, M.F.A., 1967 Pratt Institute, NYC, 1964 Art Students League, NYC, 1961 Parsons School of Design, NYC, 1961 Lives and works in New York City & Stone Ridge, NY SOLO EXHIBITIONS 2014 2013 2012 2010 2009 2006 2007 2002 2001 1999 1998 1997 1996 1995
1993 1992 1991 1990 1989 1988 1986
10 Years / 10 Paintings, Galerie Thomas Flor, Berlin, Germany. Susan Inglett Gallery, NYC Recent Work, Philip Slein Gallery, St. Louis, MO New Work, T-Space, Dutchess County, NY The Story of What Happens, Devening Projects and Editions, Chicago, IL The Kleinert / James Arts Centre, Woodstock, NY Eisbox, Brooklyn, NY Reading and Unreading, Galerie Kienzle and Gmeiner, Berlin, Germany Ways To Make Things, Cynthia Broan Gallery, NYC Between The Window and The Wall, St. Michael's College, Burlington, VT New Sculptures and Paintings, Domo Gallery, Summit, NJ Nine Paintings, Myers Gallery, University of Akron, Akron, OH Baumgartner Gallery, NYC Same Body, Different Day, University of Maine Museum of Art, Bangor, ME Baumgartner Gallery, NYC University of Alabama, AL 10 Year Survey, Butler Institute, Youngstown, OH Bentley Gallery, Scottsdale, AZ Margulies Taplin Gallery, Coral Gables, FL Revolution Gallery, Detroit, Ml Cristinerose Gallery, NYC Galeria Fernando Alcolea, Barcelona, Spain Galería Siboney, Santander, Spain Mary Boone Gallery, NYC Architectures Without Archeologies, Galleria in Arco, Torino, Italy Baumgartner Galleries, Washington, DC Galeria Fernand Alcolea, Barcelona, Spain Mary Boone Gallery, NYC Fuller Gross Gallery, San Francisco, CA Baumgartner Galleries, Washington, DC Galeria Lino Silverstein, Barcelona, Spain Galerie Gabrielle Maubrie, Paris, France New Abstract Paintings. Hirschl & Adler Modern, NYC Dart Gallery, Chicago, IL Lia Rumma Gallery, Naples, Italy Mary Boone Gallery, NYC Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Diane Brown Gallery, NYC Mary Boone Gallery, NYC1984 Marlborough Gallery, NYC University of Rhode Island, Kingston, Rl Portico Row Gallery, Philadelphia, PA
1983 1982 1881 1980 1979 1978 1977 1976 1975 1974 1973
1972 1971 1970
Mary Boone Gallery, NYC The Texas Gallery, Houston, TX Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Mary Boone Gallery, NYC Daniel Weinberg Gallery, San Francisco, CA Ronald Greenberg Gallery, St. Louis, MO Mary Boone Gallery, NYC Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Mattingly-Baker Gallery, Dallas, TX Mary Boone Gallery, NYC Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Mary Boone Gallery, NYC Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles, CA Mary Boone Gallery, NYC Arnold Gallery, Atlanta, Georgia Texas Gallery, Houston, TX Daniel Weinberg Gallery, San Francisco, CA Texas Gallery, Houston, TX Bykert Gallery, NYC Bykert Gallery, NYC Texas Gallery, Houston, TX Daniel Weinberg Gallery, San Francisco, CA Alfred University, Alfred, NY Bykert Gallery, NYC Texas Gallery, Houston, TX Galleri Ostergren, Malmö, Sweden Fabian Carlson Gallery, Goteborg, Sweden Daniel Weinberg Gallery, San Francisco, CA Hans Neuendorf Gallery, Köln, Germany Hans Neuendorf Gallery, Hamburg, Germany Quay Gallery, San Francisco, CA David Whitney Gallery, NYC David Whitney Gallery, NYC
SELECTED GROUP EXHIBIITONS 2013
“Come Together: Surviving Sandy”, Curated by Phong Bui, Industry City, Brooklyn, NY “Art for Art's Sake”, Frederick R. Weisman Museum of Art, Pepperdine University, Malibu, CA “Keine Parole, Aktion-Malerei-Konzept”, The Kunstmuseum Kloster Unser Lieben Frauen, Magdeburg, Germany “Unhinged”, Pierogi, Brooklyn, NY “Reinventing Abstraction”, Cheim & Read, NYC “Season Review”, Edward Thorp Gallery, NYC “Abstraction Advanced”, Edward Thorp Gallery, NYC “Around the Corner”, Terras Gallery, NYC “Broken/Window/Plane”, Tracey Williams LTD. Gallery, NYC “Humus Redux: Landscape Painting Across a Spectrum of Abstraction”, The Center for Contemporary Art, Bedminister, NJ “Refocusing the Spotlight: 21 American Painters”, Nina Freudenheim Gallery, Buffalo, NY “A Disease of the Oyster”, The Pearl Lounge, New Orleans, LA “Humus: A Collaboration of 21st Century Painters”, John C. Hutcheson Gallery, James D. Hughes Center, Lipscomb University, Nashville, TN “Power to the People”, Feature Inc., NYC
“Gary Stephan, with Richard Rezac, Devening Projects + Editions”, Chicago, IL “False Friends, False Friends”, Brandenburgischer Kunstverein Potsdam, Potsdam, Germany “Chautauqua: A Continuum of Creativity”, Denise Bibro Fine Art, NYC “Non Objective or Not: Dialogues in Modernism”, Wendt Gallery, NYC “Up to the Edge. – Judith Racht Gallery”, Harbert, MI “Painting And”, Woodstock Byrdcliffe Guild, Woodstock, NY WAAM Woodstock Artists Association & Museum “Eye World”, Triple Candie, NYC “Jettison: New Ideas in Abstraction”, Trahern Gallery, Austin Pegy State University, Clarksville, TN “Unlikely”, Kunstverein Konstanz e.V., Konstanz, Germany Champions of Modernism III, Wendt Modern, Laguna Beach, CA “Ewing Gallery of Art”, The University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN “To Have it About You: the Dorothy and Herbert Vogel collection”, Weisman Art Museum, Minneapolis, MN “Unlikely”, Stadtische Galerie Waldkraiburg, Germany “Unlikely”, W139, Amsterdam, Holland “Short Distnace To Now”, Galerie Thomas Flor, Dusseldorf, Germany “International Art Show on Paper”, Col Patrocino dell'Assessorato alla Cultura del Comune di Cesena, Cesena, Italy “Unlikely”, Galerie Kienzle & Gmeiner, Berlin, Germany “Unlikely”, Picture Party, Brooklyn, NY “Short Distance To Now”, Galerie Kienzle & Gmeiner, Berlin, Germany “Short Distnace To Now”, Galerie Thomas Flor, Dusseldorf, Germany “The Recognitions”, The Fireplace Project, East Hampton, NY “Unfathom”, Max Protetch, NYC “Exquistite Abstraction”, White Space, Atlanta, GA Lesley Heller Gallery, NYC “Still Missing”, The Visual Arts Museum, NYC “American Art in Swiss Collections”, Kunstmuseum, Winterthur, Switzerland Oliver Kamm, NYC Leslie Heller, NYC “A Drawing and a Painting no.1”, Temporary Museum of Painting, Brooklyn, NY “Transmutations”, SICA, Long Branch, NJ “The Failure of the Social”, SVA Gallery, NYC “War is Over”, Sideshow, Brooklyn, NY “After all that can be said”, Kienzle-Gmeiner, Berlin, Germany “I am a Child of Divorce, Give me a Break”, Cynthia Broan Gallery, NYC “Vision and Re-vision”, Domo Gallery, Summit NJ “Invitational Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture,” American Academy of Arts and Letters, NYC “Transcendent and Unrepentant”, Rosenwald-Wolff Gallery, University of the Arts, Philadelphia, PA “Ball Point”, Geoff Young Gallery, Great Barrington, MA “177th Annual: Invitational”, National Academy of Design, NYC “A Response”, Exit Art, NYC “Rebuilding Hope”, One Block at a Time, School of Visual Arts, NYC “Vermont Studio Center Press”, Robert Hull Fleming Museum, University of Vermont, VT “Substance”, Neo Images, NYC “Almost Something: Depictive Abstraction”, Catherine Moore Fine Art, NYC “Sensibilities”, Booth Contemporary Art, Wakefield, RI
AWARDS AND HONORS American Academy of Arts and Letters John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship National Endowment for the Arts The New York Arts Foundation
Like Sleep, 2012. Acrylic/canvas, 28 x 32 in.