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“Pendulum of Time” at Lichtundfire


Lichtundfire, located in the Lower East Side, directed by gallerist Priska Juschka, has become known for showing subtle, often muted abstract paintings. In “Pendulum of Time,” we find a body of works devoted to the non-objective description of duration, or the passage of the hours. The word “pendulum” implies movement in a physical sense, and cumulatively, that is what happens in the exhibition. Time itself, being an abstract division of duration, lends itself well to its portrayal in a non-figurative, absolute manner. The six artists in this show each present a more or less abstract indication of how time might move, or even sway, in the face of its representation. The viewer must read into the artists’ fashioning’s because most are painted without an easy, if any, connection to the world. At the same time, figuration cannot be completely ruled out--almost always, it is possible to read a joining between attributes having nothing to do with the recognizable and that which can be seen as the externals of our life.

Juschka, who curated the show, has found distinguished painters to work with. Gina Werfel’s “New Year” (2019) is a wonderfully skilled abstract work of art, whose title directly refers to a particular day in the year’s continuum. Its background of light blue and white, freely embellished with daubs of red, yellow, purple, and dark green color, could conceivably be understood as a slightly hidden greeting to the New Year. It is a joyous painting about beginnings, in which the sense of a near future results from a lightly hued palette. Poised as it is between the end of a measured duration and the welcome start of a new one, the painting shows the viewer how the challenge of depicting something as abstract as time might be solved. Then, in the mixed-media process painting from 2019, Jay Jae Won Jung’s “Trace of Time”, the notion of action painting, as indicative of activity over the length of an unmeasured period, is given form. Consisting of black paint, repeated in curls and near circles, and attached household sponges, with the latter sometimes saturated with black paint, “Trace of Time” shows us how a repetitive formal effect, like the curving elements that it consists of, might be used to illustrate the idea of the passage of moments, hours, days.

Macyn Bolt’s, “Intersect (Blue)” (2017), creates the sense of progression by juxtaposing a light-blue half on the left to a dark blue half on the right. On the bottom of the left panel, we find a band of light gray stretching, intersecting with blue-gray lines cutting across the band at an angle, along the width of its expanse, along with a slightly darker blue triangular shape along the left side. On the right half of the painting, two blue-black strips, each edged at an angle, occur on the top and the bottom of the expanse of dark blue paint. This painting offers the feeling of one color following the other, creating the impression of an abstract narrative, that is, the development of hue over time. This is difficult to do, especially when the artist is working purely non-objectively, although the idea of an intersection, the reference in the title, could be applied to duration as much as to space. In Leslie Ford’s painting, whose title “40 DN-2483” (2014) refers in abbreviated fashion to the Jesuitical forty days and forty nights spent fasting, the image is sublimely simple: a deep, slightly dark, yellow upper half is met midway along the painting’s horizon by a blue bottom half. The line connecting them undulates slightly. We know from the title that the painting refers to a holy passage of time, even if there is no direct allusion to its occurrence. This brings up an interesting question: How can abstract painting be made to fit a specific reference to an event, in a way that adequately recognizes that event? It is beyond the call of this review to work out an answer, but it can be said that the title frames the image in ways that explain the image’s formal expressiveness.

Sallie Strand’s “Clarity of Rain” (2020), not so different in palette from Werfel’s painting, approximates the action of falling rain, itself an activity occurring over time. With two central nodes of activity, consisting of blue and dark blue elements on the left and right side of the painting, topped by pale green streaks, “Clarity of Rain” is an action painting based on a natural event. So, both the image and the time spent in making the images are linked. One is a physical depiction of an activity or event, which always indicates progression, and the other is suggested, by the disparate images occurring in juxtaposition, as an action with duration (although this is not clear from the painting itself). Finally, Martin Weinstein’s “Clouds and River, 3 Evenings” (2018) comprises several panels of Plexiglas installed one behind the other. The imagery is lushly romantic; clouds fill the composition, with a blue river and a dark blue mountain in the center of the space, along with green and reddish foliage in the foreground. In this painting, the elements feel like they are very much in flux, about to change--a realization that necessarily encompasses movement and time. And the succession of synthetic surfaces that establish in sequence the painting’s full view is itself a physical representation of a narrative passage. Thus, the work is a stilled moment ready to move somewhere else. And this implicit, not quite realized movement is best described as a suggested duration.

Having looked at these individual paintings, we can ask whether they fulfill the implications of the show’s title. It seems to me that they do. All the works can be understood to demonstrate a narrative history of some sort, whether they are (mostly) abstract or not. Good art always places us in a position of hesitation--are we reading the image correctly or not? Usually, the answer is decided intuitively; painting is not like an equation, solved by rational consideration. Instead, abstraction can illustrate ideas like time in ways that are unavailable to the figurative painter. This means that our approach to understanding the work of art must mirror both its imagery and the history of its making, that is, we need to approach the effort as time-based. In “Pendulum of Time,” we consequently see paintings that capitalize on our ability to suspend our disbelief and see their stilled motion as indicative of active movement, a story swinging like a pendulum from beginning to end, over a period of time. The show does this very well, indeed.

- Jonathan Goodman, New York, May 18, 2020

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