It’s been some time since there was a full show of works by Dan Colen on view in New York. Having decamped upstate to explore a more deliberate, meditative practice in conjunction with running his own farm, the artist’s modes of practice, and now even his representation, has undergone a slow but deliberate shift. Now, with a body of new works in tow, the artist has opened his first exhibition with his new gallery, Lévy Gorvy. Grouping together a body of sculptures and paintings, the artist returns to familiar ground, exploring and manipulating previous modes of working to create a striking, and mature, selection of pieces.
Colen’s work has long been materially adventurous, pursuing an art deeply rooted in the history of painting. His compositional substances range from chewing gum, flowers, dirt, and grass, to confetti, and tar and feathers, part of a mode of practice in gradually deconstructing the essence of painting’s brushstroke and the gestural mark of the artist’s hand. Rarely shying away from a tongue-in-cheek approach to the canvas, Colen’s work nevertheless incorporates a deep awareness of the history of contemporary painting, and an interest in the lines that the artist can walk in his engagement with that canon from the outside. Never formally trained as a painter, Colen’s work and his sense of compositional abandon lands with a splash here, albeit a measured one.
At the center of the show is a series of large-scale canvases, staid arrangements and piles of shirts, coats, dresses and other goods drawn from mail-order catalogs. Taking these images and blowing them up to immense scale, Colen allows the grain of the image, and the subsequent data loss caused by its removal from its original source, to emerge. Regarding the images, the artist speaks of their composition as a space of visual abstraction, as the size of the work reveals moments of linguistic breakdown, sites where the image’s colors and printing techniques are so visible that the overall image gradually collapses under the weight of the marks’ respective identities. These are abstractions in multiple senses of the word, puling the image and its content out of any easy relation to its original source, ultimately allowing its material composition to rise to the surface.
Colen’s work has long dwelled on the investigation of the canvas as a container defining its content. Much like his chewing-gum pieces, his arguments for the frame as the site for the most intensive deconstructions of the painter’s materials and tools sit at the core of his work. Here, this same concept gets a distinctively mellowed reconceptualization, turning the canvas into a magnifying glass of sorts, one that looks deep into the image, while reflecting back on itself.
The artist’s work is on view through June 13th.
— D. Creahan
Exhibition Site [Lévy Gorvy]