Monday, May 16, 2011

"Stone Soup": Esther Kläs and Thomas Fougeirol at C L E A R I N G

Esther Kläs, Untitled, 2011. Plaster, pigment, concrete, in "Stone Soup," at C L E A R I N G, Brooklyn, New York, through May 16, 2011. Photos: 16 Miles [more]

If artist Olivier Babin, the proprietor of the nascent C L E A R I N G gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn, hadn't told me that his current show, "Stone Soup," is a two-person affair, I would have guessed that three artists were involved in its making. There are two austere black canvases on the walls — one large, one small, both clearly the work of a single artist. And there are two tall, solid abstract sculptures — one yellow, one mint green and concrete grey, seemingly created by another single pair of hands. But there is one more work — quite different from the other four pieces — that consists of a long, narrow rug, with almost its entire interior sliced away, hanging from the ceiling and a plaster cast of a forearm balancing on the ground beneath it, holding a partial handstand.

Left: Esther Kläs, Untitled, 2011. Aquaresin, pigment; right: Thomas Fougeirol, Untitled, 2010. Oil and spray paint on canvas.

The paintings are the work of Thomas Fougeirol, a French-born artist with studios in New York and Paris. Fougeirol coated them with thin, slick layers of paint and then pushed objects up against them — a pegboard in the case of the larger work and a bundle of string in the smaller one, according to Kaleidoscope. The resulting marks are indexical records of those materials, traces of simple, rote actions. Your opinion of the works will depend on your view of the strain of vanguard painting to which they resolutely belong, which favors a handcrafted — occasionally battered and frequently chilly — minimalism, sometimes ornamented with machine-wrought dysfunction. Think Ned Vena or Wade Guyton or Jacob Kassay (who was in C L E A R I N G's inaugural show) or at least half of the works in the Journal's current "One Dozen Paintings" show. I'm fan of that field, but I'm beginning to suspect that it is one that today's best artists will soon need to leave fallow.

Front: Esther Kläs, Untitled, 2011. Plaster, cut-out rug; back: Esther Kläs, Untitled, 2011. Plaster, pigment, concrete.

The two standing sculptures belong to the German–trained and Brooklyn–based Esther Kläs, who presented another, similarly playful and mysterious sculpture at Bureau earlier this year. Her yellow piece suggests a tumescent John McCracken or an Anne Truitt that has grown a tumor. That sounds scary, and the work is a little scary at first — imposing in size and heavy–looking — but it also projects a charming vulnerability, swelling awkwardly at its crown and spashed with incomplete, drippy coats of yellow paint. You will want to love it. Kläs's mint piece is a comparably elegant sight, and it shows her again gamely playing with viewers' sense of scale, placing a life-size cast of her knees on top of a lofty pedestal. (I want to place it next to Dan Walsh's mint-colored painting now on view at the Journal and eat a pint of mint ice cream as I stare at both.) As you stand in front of it, a strange figment or ghost of a person seems to float in the air in front of you.

Front: Esther Kläs, Untitled, 2011. Plaster, cut-out rug; back: Thomas Fougeirol, Untitled, 2010. Oil and spray paint on canvas.

And then, seeing this, it may occur to you, as it did to me, that another part of this uncanny, fragmentary body is on view behind your back, balancing on one hand underneath that hanging rug, which is also, it turns out, by Kläs.

Thomas Fougeirol, Untitled, 2010. Oil and spray paint on canvas.

Installation views of "Stone Soup"

Looking across the room and out the window across Johnson Street

More: Babin is also an artist; his work was on view at Marian Goodman in 2009.