Brianna Bass: Scattering the Constant at LatchKey Gallery, NYC (Review)

In Brianna Bass’s first solo exhibition with LatchKey Gallery, titled Scattering the Constant, the gridded, interwoven color patterns are imbued with sensory effects and scientific capacities. At the intersection of order and indeterminacy, human-curated formulas take on a life of their own and extend toward a realm of infinite possibilities.

Installation view of Brianna Bass: Scattering the Constant. Courtesy LatchKey Gallery.
Brianna Bass, Cosmological Redshift (2023). 72 x 52 in, oil on canvas. Courtesy the artist and LatchKey Gallery.

Walking into the gallery space on Henry Street, I found myself in a sterile, monochrome space with both the floor and walls painted bright white—futuristic as if in a sci-fi movie. To wander around the exhibition is a dizzying and kaleidoscopic experience. Canvases saturated with almost every color available on the spectrum occupy the center of the viewer’s attention as if to create an over-the-top model for Troxler’s fading, where these highly saturated colors are all you see. Nothing else in your peripheral vision seems to matter. As one steps towards and away from the paintings, the rectangular color grids appear to vibrate and shift in an agitated state. Motion and entropy are everywhere to be found, but rules still abound.

Using all-over composition and geometric abstraction, Bass creates order in every painting through self-repeating patterns and numbered colors, which are further complicated by gradient color schemes and varying levels of grayness. On the sides of the canvas, the artist’s devising process is preserved and made visible by pencil markings such as “12-11-10-9-8-7-6-5-4-3-2 | 12-11…”; one cannot help but become curious about the elaborate program generated this sequence.

Brianna Bass’s diagrammatic plotting and work in progress. Courtesy of the artist.

A recent Yale MFA graduate, Bass sets out to identify how colors repeat, align, and catch the viewer by surprise, creating paintings in which “color seduces and deceives the eye.” She curates a complex system that guides her creative odyssey, and then an element of chance is introduced by tools such as a number generator. Based on my limited understanding, the striations on each color band are derived from a set of mathematical computations that locate colors on the 360-degree color wheel. For instance, if one were to use red as the base color, the color combination on the first row would require a 180-degree difference (360° ÷ 2) between the additional color and red, therefore pinning down green. The combination on the second row would require a 120-degree difference (360° ÷ 3) between another two colors and red, thereby yielding blue and yellow. And this is only one component of Bass’s extensive diagrammatic engagement with colors.

Brianna Bass’s color wheel and numbers at the devising stage. Courtesy the artist.

Reflecting an acute awareness of art historical developments, the geometry and the ambient qualities of Bass’s paintings honor the influences of artists such as Donald Judd, Alfred Jensen, or Roman Opałka. Playing with different levels of grayness, alignment, and randomness, the artworks in this exhibition highlight not only a dynamic sense of balance but also the “art-ness” of the meticulous plotting process. The conceptual and formulaic underpinnings set the stage for a trust fall, allowing universal blueprints to dictate the finished paintings. Bass seeks to highlight how mathematical relationships drive color relationships. These color relationships then morph into something more. In fact, many of the paintings have titles that address cosmology, geology, and digital media: Quasicrystal, Cosmological Redshift, Ordovician Green, and so on. A pure vision based on the elemental color spectrum expands into scientific and even spiritual realms. In other words, despite the priority given to rules, grid guides, and self-regulating tools, Bass’s making of these instruction-based paintings, in fact, reflects a forfeiture of control rather than as just a form of self-directed compliance.

Installation view of Brianna Bass: Scattering the Constant. Courtesy LatchKey Gallery.

The hallucinating effect of Bass’s paintings almost reminds me of glitch art. A strange aesthetic clash takes place when established systems of order are disrupted by out-of-the-ordinary operations, which is especially striking in a post-digital world driven by codes and cybernetic programs. The coexistence and inter-mapping of colors and numbers are also reminiscent of synesthesia; these paintings present a moment when concealed cognitive processes are transliterated into visual language. Furthermore, Bass seems to be tapping into the less tangible realm of the unknown via chance operations and encounters. Vibrant, dynamic, and full of energy, Scattering the Constant invites us to embrace the beauty of unpredictability in a world that is that often craves constants.

Brianna Bass: Scattering the Constant is on view until October 15, 2023, at LatchKey Gallery, New York.


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Jenny Wang

Xuezhu Jenny Wang is a multilingual translator and content creator. In addition to writing about postwar and contemporary visual culture, she is working on a research project that focuses on mid-century interior design and mechanization.

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