Painter Maureen Gallace has brought an expansive look at her painterly practice to MoMA PS1 this summer, opening an exhibition cataloguing the artist’s long-running engagement with the rural American landscape, and the pastoral language that underwrites it as a source for constant reinvention. Pulling together a dizzying selection of the artist’s work, the exhibition offers an opportunity to trace these recurrent ideas and concepts through a wide swath of the artist’s work, bringing the viewer into an extended engagement with both her formal language, and the subject itself.
Maureen Gallace, Clear Day (Installation View), via Art Observed
Gallace’s work presents itself as both immediate and obtuse, cataloguing an immediately familiar iconography of seaside towns, forest hideaways and twisting backcountry roads through her gentle hand and nuanced work in oil paint. Shadows and shade play against her structures and landscapes, underscoring her careful attention to light, and its interaction with these sprawling vistas. Yet at the same time, the artist frequently intervenes in the spatial logic of these images. Momentary ruptures in perspective break the image away from an easily read replica of her original scene, while in many works, the artist deprives her buildings, cabins and homes of any recognizable detail, leaving only squat white cubes or towering panels to contend with the world around them. Rather than savor the romantic aura of these scenes, Gallace plunges deep into them, questioning how the viewer could possibly place themselves within what appears to be an unfinished, or unworldly site.
The result are works that constantly tug and pull at the threads of their composition, playing with the formal language of Gallace’s medium and painterly tradition in a way that asserts both an awareness of painting’s history outside the critical echo chambers of the contemporary, and how these alternate traditions in the medium might be reconciled. It’s worth noting in this regard that Gallace’s works are nearly uniform in size, a nod to the small-scale canvases of en plein air painting that equally underscores the history of her chosen subject matter. It’s a loaded choice, fusing a deep collection of histories and signifiers, moving from the language of the classical greats, early modernists and onward, not to mention one adopted by Sunday painters the world over.
Delving deep into these fluid constructs in the painterly form, and using these elements to re-examine both the landscapes and techniques applied in their capture on canvas, Gallace presents a striking critical negotiation, one that grows increasingly resonant in conversation with the sheer scope of works exhibited here. The works are almost overwhelming in their number and variety, frequently moving in and out of exchange with the landscapes nearby, creating a swirling, multi-faceted experience of the environments Gallace so often inhabits, and the nuanced focus she affords to each space.
Clear Day is on view through September 10th.
— D. Creahan
Maureen Gallace: Clear Day at MoMA PS1 [Exhibition Site]