Friday, February 20, 2009

Kate Shepherd, Galerie Lelong, 13 rue Téhéran

I have never been a big fan of Donald Judd's boxes and squares, despite the respect I have for their place in the development of twentieth century art. Kate Shepherd's paintings in a minimalist vein are a great testament to the importance of Judd & Co's influence on the shape of American art. Even though the influence of her Minimalist teachers is unmistakeable, there is something unusual and singular about Shepherd's work. She takes the basic grammar of minimalism and extends it into paintings and sculptures filled with playfulness, (the once taboo) human gesture, and an array of bright, fun, single color paintings on wood supports. The current installation of her work at Galerie Lelong is sheer delight.

Red Caped Bird, 2008

Over the intensely lacquered color surface Shepherd paints geometrical patterns of lines with a ruler, some of which plainly reveal pictorial forms - a bird, a human, a stick figure, a landscape. Others are indiscernible, and still others appear as scaffolding for interior or exterior spaces. Nevertheless, it was not the "what" of the drawing that drew my attention, but rather, the "how." I found myself pulled up close by the paintings, fascinated by the moment where two lines meet, and the artist has lifted her brush from the surface, leaving behind the tiniest blotch of white paint. I also searched for points along the otherwise the perfectly ruled lines where her hand wavers and the slightest "imperfections" appear. These gestural moments, and their magnetism, are of course what set her work as antithetical to her minimalist predecessors.

Turquoise Double Wire Sculpture, 2008

Also fascinating are the crevices and seams of the multiple panelled paintings. In the bigger paintings, there are three, sometimes four incisions each appearing to mark a different panel. Up close, however, we see that the crevices are mere cuts to the surface. The seams and panels reminded me of Jeff Wall's photographs in which he creates confrontation between characters, breaks the space of illusion, always dividing the photograph in two as a challenge to the spectator's comfort. Although completely different, Shepherd's cosmetic and real crevices might be understood to empahsize the two different worlds of the paintings. The dazzling monochromatic world of the painted support is deftly anchored in a minimalist, analytic tradition of stacked boxes, while the schematic figures draw attention to the surfaces which are light, playful, and as my friend Georgia pointed out, childlike. There is both an ethereal beauty to the figures themselves, and through their mere presence on thes surface, they underline the radiance and light of the color fields. Shepherd's simple sculptures made of coathangers and wooden balls, again in brightly painted colors, hang in the gallery space like child's mobiles. Together, the sculptures and paintings fill the comfortable space of Galerie Lelong with a sense of play, wonder and endless fascination.

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