For her first exhibition with the gallery, Romanian born Anna-Bella Papp orchestrates a compositional space that reflects modernistic characteristics while evading any singular readings of her practice. Upon entering the gallery the viewer is embraced with a sense of openness, to both the works and the space. An openness that allows for a personal narrative to develop between artwork and viewer, one that perhaps exists beyond the artist’s intention. A sense of tactility resonates throughout the works as they occupy several glass tables throughout the gallery. These unfired clay tablets remind us that their development is still in motion, gradually becoming accustomed to their new surroundings. Susceptible to internal environments, these tablets remain untitled, (except one, this verse has no other night than the one that is coming, 2013), with only the material—unfired clay—defined. Such a deliberate gesture readdresses the materiality of the artworks, and implies a medium specific dialogue for the viewer to engage with. Clay as a medium does, however, have a historical reception both within craft and art. Like a metaphoric pretext, the malleable state of the clay imitates the indefinite exchange the viewer has with the work. The tablets occupy a liminal space, sharing elements of both sculpture and painting. The reliefs are displayed on glass tables, but also hung on the walls, implying a flexibility to their artistic categorization.
This juxtaposition of delicate and stable assemblages is a prevalent motif throughout the exhibition (unfired clay to wall, unfired clay to glass table.) Reading this closeness of clay tablet and furniture as a system evokes questions of production and labor, particularly in the use of raw materials in industrial design. However, individually these near abstract tablets are cloaked by a cloudy reference—their modernist aspects, for example, are at once made present and yet seemingly hard to pinpoint. The works unintentionally reveal a fixation with modernist painting and architecture, both structurally and compositionally. In this verse has no other night than the one that is coming, Papp utilizes a framing device to set the stage for what may appear as pictorial content, such as a seascape similar to the impressionist view disclosed by Henri Matisse’s Open Window, 1921. Conversely, the works untitled, 2013, clay, 33.5 x 23.5 x 2.5 cm, and untitled, 2013, clay, 35.3 x 26.5 x 2.3 cm, seem to mark a compositional nod to minimalism.
An architectural discussion also conveys itself unexpectedly as viewers realize that these tablet-like reliefs quickly comment on the historic moldings of the gallery’s interior. Placed next to each other on the glass tables, a diptych relationship between works may further be negotiated. Still each work in its distinctive appearance embodies its own inquisition. For example, untitled, 2013, clay, 28.5 x 22 x 2 cm holds a performative quality that provokes a sense of rhythm through various repetitious markings, whereas untitled, 2013, clay, 28.8 x 21.5 x 1.5 cm, almost bares no trace of the artist’s hand, only a silhouette of intention rests on the compliant slab. By intentionally not giving the viewer any context to the works, Papp creates a space that allows for a vast amplification of everything that isn’t there to be read and expanded upon, through the various exchanges one can have with the clay objects. Temporarily suspending all perceptions by the viewer, the work remains hazily defined until the initial encounter. The exhibition offers moments of recognition that at once serve as points of orientation and imply that each work is perhaps only a moment within a larger montage.
By Victor Wang