Wagmag: Ace of Spades

BY ENRICO GOMEZ

“Is it snowing there yet?” I ask artist Hilda Shen, who has graciously agreed to open the art gallery Sugar (449 Troutman St. #3-5, bell 21) for me during holiday-off hours. “Not much” she replies, “just a dusting … like confectioners sugar”, an incidental wordplay that I savor as I crunch my way through the snow.

“Ace of Spades” on view at Sugar through January 15th, is a small but toothsome offering of 3 artists whose work indicates a mutual affinity for the color black. Gallerist Gwendolyn Skaggs’ show statement suggests additional areas of overlap, such as a shared concern with life and death or distance and proximity.

The gallery’s center wall is consumed by a lithe installation of over 30 photographs, co-selected by gallerist Skaggs and German photographer Alexander Binder. Simulating an electrocardiogram, the staccato arrangement of these dark photographs has a definite pulse, even if their subject matter bleeds black. Fixated on the macabre, the occult and the phantasmagorical, Binder’s black and white images (horned figures and hooded beasts) are engaging and mischievous, as the artist (born on Halloween, actually) seems to employ this grim vocabulary almost playfully, akin to the sporting of a scary mask.

The tenebrous tone is continued in the captivating mono-prints of artist Hilda Shen. Composed on a black ground, these prints consist of white and smoky dream-like forms, encircled by electric marks. Shen shares that she creates these enigmatic images intuitively, through a process of removing ink in layers, solely with her body (nails, elbows, thumbs and palms). The employment of memory, touch, process and obfuscation in these prints accounts for the fact that they seem to inhabit a ghost-like space between the witnessed and the recalled, with strokes at once insistent and removed.

Installed directly opposite is “Untitled (Reinhardt)”, a significant 60”x60” homage on paper to the titled artist by Vincent Como. The work, like Reinhardts, reads as a singular black object, only this density was achieved through the methodical application of ball point pen ink (layer upon layer in two inch bands) with subtle, cruciform-shaped hue differences revealing themselves only over time. This ascetic work is impressive less in size than in the psychic mass and gravitational pull it exhibits.

Chief curator of the Guggenheim, Nancy Spector, asserts that Reinhardt’s works “recall ‘Negation Theology’, a method of thought evident in Platonism and early Christianity – employed to comprehend the Divine by indicating everything it was not.” I believe all the works in “Ace of Spades” share this inclination, if not overtly toward the spiritual, then certainly toward the dichotomies of good/evil, presence/absence and the revealed/obscured.

Leaving Sugar in a flurry of powder (in what would later be recorded as the 6th largest snowfall in NYC history), it is only in retrospect that I realize the opportuneness of this backdrop for this particular show, contrasting sweetly the delicious dark therein.


January 6, 2011