Objects as Narrators at Arsenal Contemporary: This Sacred Vessel (Pt.3), NYC

Installation view, This Sacred Vessel (Pt.3), Arsenal Contemporary, New York, September 17-December 20. Photo courtesy of the artist and Arsenal Contemporary New York

This Sacred Vessel (pt.3) at Arsenal Contemporary

Sept 17 – Dec 20, 2020

All images courtesy of Arsenal Contemporary and the Artists

Participating Artists: Amanda Boulos, Peter Dreher, Dominique Fung, Louisa Gagliardi, Molly A. Greene, Stephanie Temma Hier, Greg Ito, Vincent Larouche, Kenny Rivero, Water Robinson, Samantha Rosenwald, and Brittney Leeanne Wiliams

The ongoing show This Sacred Vessel (Pt.3) at Arsenal Contemporary looks at a still life as an artistic method of engagement with non-living or living things, an attempt to look at existence from aside, from an ontological point of view. Instead of focusing on the actual jars, vases, or apples, twelve artists look at the hands, the symmetry of plants, the passage of time, mimicry, solitude, and nostalgia. Through the works, we arrive at a contemporary narrative structure, a collection not unlike a cabinet of curiosities, but of more recent origins.

Samantha Rosenwald, Slit, 2020. Colored pencil on canvas, 28x 28 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist and Arsenal Contemporary New York

Samantha Rosenwald and Stephanie Temma Hier add delightful and unexpected strokes to the subject of mimicry and, its opposite, unmasking, thus forming conceptual parameters for all other works on view. In Rosenwald’s “Slit,” an eloquent drawing on canvas, a sumptuous watermelon changes its identity to adhere to its environment or perhaps an environment is undergoing that change, adapting to a predatory looking fruit. While Stephanie Temma Hier’s ceramic snakes and mushrooms refuse to be confined to their small premises, unmasking and leaving behind traditional still life subjects (clams, a bunch of salads) painted with oil.  All other works vacillate between this opposition and full acceptance.

Stephanie Temma Hier, Beloved by the caterpillar, 2020 Oil on linen with glazed stoneware sculpture, 21.5 x 18 x 3 inches. Photo courtesy of the artist and Arsenal Contemporary New York

Among the most eloquent works on view are Peter Dreher’s six cups, part of his wrestling match with permanence and legacy as he painted one glass per day as part of his cycle “Tag um Tag guter Tag” (Day by day good day), accumulating over 5,000 paintings since 1974. Connecting old-fashioned contemplating of Morandi with post-World War II anguish and desolation these glasses are the artist’s attempts at finding peace and purpose.

Peter Dreher, Day by Day good Day Nr. 8a 708 (Night), 1985, Day by Day Good Day Nr. 9a 240 (Day), 1986, Day by Day Good Day Nr.244 (Day), 1986 Day by Day good Day Nr. 797 (Night), 1987, Day by Day good Day Nr. 462 (Day), 1990, Day by Day good Day Nr.709 (Night), 1992.Oil on linen 10h x 8w inches. Photo courtesy of the artist and Arsenal Contemporary New York

In contrast to this very straightforward masculine attempt at finding solace, Swiss Louisa Gagliardi pokes fun at us by showing that bodies can also be part of still lives. Vast lonesome and nocturnal canvases by Kenny Rivero are contrasted by the affective and pastiche lovesickness of Greg Ito. Symbology of color plays a significant role for both of these artists, thus underlining their approach to narrative in highly subjective and emotional terms. Canadian Vincent Larouche is presented with a few canvases that nostalgically all portray pre-digital technology. By adding nostalgia to the presented emotions Larouche completes the circle. Only the past is better than the present. The future is as uncertain today as it ever was.

Installation view, This Sacred Vessel (Pt.3), Arsenal Contemporary, New York, September 17-December 20. Photo courtesy of the artist and Arsenal Contemporary New York

Overall the exhibition presents a very eloquent portrait of where we currently are as a society, wavering between mimicry and stand-off, wallowing in the nostalgia of good pre-digital times, and looking at meaning outside of ourselves. Yet, the human connection here again seems to be the answer to the existential angst. Hands of Greg Ito’s two canvases ground the viewer, giving her a slight reassurance. Seemingly it is up to us to decide whether they are fruits of lovesick nostalgia or dream of tomorrow, but either way, this is the narrative, the story we want to go home with. Objects as narrators tell a good story, with honesty and without fuss.

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Nina Mdivani

Nina Mdivani is Tbilisi-born and New York-based curator, writer, and researcher. Over the past seven years, Mdivani has participated in various projects, panels, critiques, and juries connected to the contemporary visual arts with a focus on women artists, Eastern Europe, intergenerational trauma, and the erasure of culture. She has curated over ten exhibitions in New York, Germany, Georgia, and Latvia. Mdivani’s articles have been published in The Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, The Art Newspaper, JANE Magazine Australia, NERO Editions Italy, Eastern European Film Bulletin Berlin, XIBT Contemporary Art Magazine Berlin, White Hot Magazine New York, Arte & Lusso Dubai, and others. Her books include: “Anna Valdez: Natural Curiosity” (Paragon Books, Berkeley, CA 2019), “King is Female: Three Georgian Artists” (Wienand Verlag, Berlin 2018), “Lechaki: Photography of Daro Sulakauri” (ERTI Gallery, Georgia 2018), “The Science, Religion, and Culture of Georgia A Concise and Illustrated History” (NOVA Science Publishing, New York 2017). In September 2022 Mdivani became Senior Director at Black Wall Street Gallery, Chelsea.

  1. Very interesting analysis of the concepts. I wish you success.

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