New Installations

Amy Kauffman
Lump Gallery
Through Sept. 27

building/ burning/ growing
Ashlynn Browning
Flanders Art Gallery
Through Sept. 30

A hearty gust, an emphatic breeze, any serious whoosh of air, would probably be sufficient to dismantle Amy S. Kauffman’s installation at Lump Gallery. The work, aptly titled “Fleet(ing),” is composed entirely of discarded chewing gum wrappers.

Kauffman, whose work tends toward the repetitive reuse of consumer packaging, has taken scores of Trident brand gum wrappers and fashioned them into small boat-like structures. Hence we have the double meaning of the titlethe ephemeral quality of the materials and their nautical transmutation.

The installation takes the form of a long rectangle on the floor of Lump’s main gallery. Composed entirely of small chewing-gum-wrapper boats, the work seems to beg for free association on its structure and materials. The work is so spare, either you’re going to dismiss it or you’re going to free fall into a sea (pun intended) of poetic conjecture.

There are any number of ways to begin thinking about this piece. First, you can imagine the tactile aspects of its creation, the artist’s hands nimbly folding the tiny boats. One might consider it a form of origami, an idle pastime, a mindless action, a Zen practice. It could equally suggest obsessive-compulsive behavior, a kind of odd internal tick, a sign of mania. Then there’s the issue of the wrappers themselves. Where did all the chewing gum go? Was it chewed? Did the artist chew it? And while the use of commercial packaging and other cultural detritus has become part of the visual language of contemporary art, the reference to consumerism and mass marketing still lingers with every paper vessel: “Who wants gum?”

Apart from the vast associative meanings of its materials, “Fleet(ing)” reads as a piece of minimalist sculpture (think Carl Andre’s lead floor works), or a conceptual, performative statement (as in the painstaking, grain-by-grain pollen installations of Wolfgang Laib). Its transient quality reverberates a feeling of lightness and fragility in the gallery space. Worth seeing.

A note to those who still harbor distrust toward abstraction: Maybe I shouldn’t be surprised that at this point in the history of art some people still want paintings to be “of” something. I guess my surprise is because paintings are, to my mind, always “of” somethingthey are “of” the materials that made them. In many ways the advent of photography freed up ways in which painting could finally become about paint. The accurate depiction of images was taken care of. Glimmers of abstraction are present in early works where paint was used expressively, pushing beyond the boundaries of literal depiction. Look at Courbet’s visible brush strokes, Cezanne’s rich modeling of shapes and space, Van Gogh’s energized jabs. If one take some time to consider what it is about the landscapes, portraits or still lifes that excite us, we may begin to think in terms of line, color, shape and space. From there it’s just a few steps to an appreciation of pure abstraction.

A painting can be nonrepresentational and still capable of narrative, emotion, idea, intention, musicality, intensity, drama, harmony and so on. Abstraction no longer deserves to be thought of as in any way “edgy.” Everything in the world is, in fact, abstract. It is only agreed-upon constructs like language that allow us to name and conscribe phenomena. When a painter works with paint or any other materials on a surface, then that artist is contributing to a visual continuum that becomes part of the world. It is no more abstract than the vase of flowers at the front desk of the gallery in which it is hung.

building/ burning/ growing is Ashlynn Browning’s collection of recent mixed media works on paper at Flanders Gallery. These works flaunt the beauty of their materials in compositions of endless variation and resonant consistency. In “Afternoon Languor Turns to Dusk,” the work’s layered surface reflects the history of its making and plays up the luxuriousness of paint itself. Here, as in many of the works on view, Browning integrates the grids she has explored in past paintings, but now she seems to have expanded the story, allowing organic forms to emerge in and around the initial structure.

“Rising from the Sea” features Browning’s ongoing engagement with the dynamic of green against red, keying these colors against each other. The pink and red linear strokes that float over multiple layers of the painting are reminiscent of the drawings-over-paintings of David Salle. But there is also a Matisse-like way of breaking up pictorial space, and a palette that feels like Matisse as well. Cases in point are the dots of green along the lower left quadrant and the surprising shock of blue/ violet that floats in the upper right. This painting tells the story of a rush of vertical energy through the composition, fueled by an overlay of pale staccato markings in the center.

Space prohibits me from describing each of Browning’s 22 works on viewa small grouping of which includes the artist’s gutsy torn pieces, works that appear to be fragments of larger works, breathless abbreviations of Browning’s painterly prowess. Perhaps a few nonbelievers might be enticed by the considerable pleasure to be had in these well-constructed offerings.