Love is a kind of obsession, and obsession is a kind of love. It is this sentiment, not one of sensationalism or romanticism, that permeates the works in the two-gallery group exhibition, Stay in Love, curated by Chris Sharp at Lisa Cooley and Laurel Gitlen. Alternating between meditative, neurotic, and celebratory, the featured artists investigate the subjects of their fascination with the thoroughness that exists only in a state of devotion.
Featuring the works of both well-established and up-and-coming artists, from local and international spheres, and connecting the east and west sides of Norfolk Street in Manhattan, the exhibition bridges both space and time. The individual installations, however, do not feel particularly integrated with each other. Lisa Cooley’s almost entirely monochromatic installation creates a necessary visual coherence that fuses the broad gaps in the enigmatic pieces. Laurel Gitlen uses a similar method, but with predominantly bright, colorful, playful works. With no text beyond the press release to connect the twenty-three artists and pieces that span almost fifty years, the works fluctuate in and out of recognizability, aided by a variety of contextualizing tactics.
Standing in Lisa Cooley’s main gallery, three vitrines containing 296 vintage studio photographs of infants and young children erupt symbolically with the inclusion of the title The Hidden Mother (2006–2013). Suddenly the children are no longer the points of interest. Instead, the focus shifts to the scratched-out faces behind them, the figures draped in fabric or standing just out of the frame, holding them. The veiled mothers restrain and comfort their offspring, rendering the images violent and tender at the same time. The collection transcends the vernacular lens of the photographs by bringing the relationship between mother and child into question.
The centerpiece of Roman Opalka’s mixed-media work, I–Infinity (1965), addresses the viewer in a similarly elusive way. The large, downy-gray canvas hums with the numbers between 3,578,534 and 3,695,782, neatly painted in cycling gradations of white. To the left, white headphones stream Opalka’s voice reciting the numbers as he painted them. To the right, two black-and-white portraits of the artist bookend the time spent on this installment of his project, illustrating the duration through the unmistakable aging of his features. Starting in 1965, he dedicated his life to systematically painting the numbers 1–infinity. Like trying to understand the universe by counting the stars, Opalka’s synecdochic mania both documents time and emphasizes its oppression.
Hanging on the back wall at Laurel Gitlen, Claude Viallat’s large painting Sans Titre N°57 (1997) represents decades of investigation. By repetitively using rows of shapes ranging from jelly beans to Sour Patch Kids in both form and color, Viallat sought to escape from compositional worries and concentrate solely on color relationships. The resulting unstretched canvases playfully draw the eye into a space that will not sit still, using the contrasting blues and canary yellows to flatten and expand depth of field simultaneously.
Whether through vast typologies, countless studies of a single object, name, or place, or the pursuit of personally thanking every sanitation worker in New York City, the artists in Stay in Love leave no question of their dedication to their subjects. Despite the myriad methods, when considered as a whole, the exhibition illustrates not just the tendency toward obsession, but the desire to feel connected to something, whatever it may be.
Stay in Love will be on view at Laurel Gitlen and Lisa Cooley through February 2, 2014.