Dana Kopel

29 May 2024

03:50 EDT

Formal Complaint
curated with Rachael Rakes
15 April–28 May, 2017
Knockdown Center, Queens, NY

Aria Dean, Female Background, Christopher Hanrahan, Mario Navarro, Megan Pahmier

read a nice review here

Craft, scrap, and architectural minimalism coincide in Formal Complaint. Featuring work by Aria Dean, Female Background, Christopher Hanrahan, Mario Navarro, and Megan Pahmier, the exhibition returns handiwork to formalism, while maintaining a sense of slackness.

Metal armatures lean and bend precariously; a painting on unstretched canvas drags on the floor. Discarded materials and everyday objects come to conjure an upright but “bereft formalism,” as Hanrahan calls it. His sculptural outline of a table rendered in thin strips of brass deploys a graceful material precarity to reclaim architectural space. An untitled sculpture by Dean disrupts the gallery space, with pipes that lean precariously against the wall and stretch across the floor; and her floor-grazing painting Untitled, from the Glob Cobbler (2016), is marked with streaks of black, white, and ochre, seemingly part artwork and part dropcloth.

Tenderness and despair coalesce in objects that can only just support themselves, much less make a claim for historical or philosophical significance. Some works can barely sustain their original forms: the grapes speared on a steel rod in Pahmier’s Fountain (2015), for instance, shrivel and rot over the course of the exhibition. The vaguely figurative object sculptures of Female Background act as neither reference nor obfuscation, like signals of intended failure. Mario Navarro’s mobiles repurpose materials from local demolitions—rebar, bits of stone, and cement. Hanging from the ceiling, they combine the flat pictorial space of a painting with the haphazard juxtapositions of found sculpture, combining elements of destruction and decor.

The works in the exhibition undermine past minimalisms from multiple directions—in terms of material, attitude, and dependence on context—but out of a care for and maintenance of form, rather than a casting off of it. Through these mergers of vernacular minimalism and sad design, work and supporting structure, Formal Complaint creates its own ecology of exhibitionary space.