Rains: on Kadar Brock's Bury Enchantment

On the recent exhibition Bury Enchantment | Patron Gallery, 213 Bowery, New York
Reflections by Matt Jones

Sixty-three years after the coal mine closes, sixty-one years after Roger Delano Hinkins, the future John-Roger, founder of the Movement of Spiritual Inner Awareness (MSIA), is born to a Mormon family in Rains, Utah, and about forty years after his father becomes an MSIA follower, Kadar Brock travels 2,200 miles from his home in Brooklyn to explore, photograph, and draw the town’s remnants. In June of 2019 he brings these drawings and photos into the studio at the Macedonia Institute residency in New York’s Hudson Valley, and begins to paint. A month later he posts an image of a new painting of an excavated landscape he’s calling rains schoolhouse. “It’s good to be home,” he writes.  “Glad I’ve kept that one as is…”

The committed trajectory of Kadar Brock’s work traces its origins to a post-Cooper Union decision to un-stretch and scrape his early,numinous figurative paintings, coat them in layers of alcohol-based primer-sealer, then sand the canvases until they are soft, brittle, and chalky. Finally, he covers the surfaces again with rich oil paint. This process of labor repeats until the paintings are revealed as abstractions riddled with expressive holes and cracks, chaotic marks and flashes of color, on fine, fragile expanses. rains schoolhouse, rains schoolhouse(2019) and little standard, western tipple (2019), are exemplary paintings from Kadar’s most recent exhibition, Bury Enchantment,of how his experience in Utah has impacted his practice. The oil painted image isn’t covered up, hidden, or unrecognizably abstracted—he painted a landscape and we see a landscape. While not an entirely new idea for him—figurative elements have been lost and recovered in his paintings before—these unburied likenesses disclosethe hills, mountains, trees, shrubs, and dirt of Rains with all the diffuse light and grayed color of a Cezanne, translating and locating his connection to the scene itself. They mark a tangible destination in our shared reality with vital implications for Kadar’s historical, spiritual, and imagined biographies. John-Roger inhabited this space, so too must Kadar.

It’s a month after Bury Enchantment opened and I’m looking at a high-resolution image of green, orange, purple,blue(2019) and imagining Kadar’s painting practice as metaphorically panning for gold, which could maybe be a comment on or criticism of art in general, but I’m forced to let the idea go when I learn that, unlike many other western states, Utah did not have extensive gold prospecting opportunities, though it had (and still has) coal prospects. I read about anthracite, lignite, bituminous coal, and sub-bituminous coal, and about some of the many ways we extract it from the ground—strip mining, contour mining, mountain top removal, longwall, continuous, room and pillar, blast mining, shortwall, and retreat mining. I read that coal comes from peat—which is decayed prehistoric plant matter—after exposure to tremendous heat and pressure hundreds of feet below the earth’s surface. The parallels with Kadar’s practice are obvious. I think about what it must have been like for Kadar to look at his paintings in the mid-2000s and realize their potential if they were rendered illegible with layers of flat paint. How many layers should be added? How long should they sit there, covered? How should he excavate the surfaces? How long before this site of his labor transforms into painting?

Maybegreen, orange, purple, blue is not an abstract painting, but instead a metaphorical meditation on seemingly coincidental connections between several levels of Kadar’s experience waiting to be filled not only with historical, but also imaginative content, obfuscating easy binaries between the two.

I walk into Kadar Brock’s exhibition and sit on the lightly painted bench in the center of the room. On the other side of the country the coal mine in Rains is flooded. Here, on the Bowery, in Patron Gallery’s pop-up space, hang two large landscape paintings and three large abstractions. Here, Kadar makes the case for painting as sifting mechanism, filtering pigment and light in a very practical way. The depth is actual, not illusionistic. Rather than accruing meaning through positivist additive processes, it is through the negation of surface that Kadar, while on very personal mystical quest, posits that depth itself holds meaning.



How to Do Nothing by Jenny Odell

Reviewed by Aptly editor Anna Ruth Yates


This year’s most celebrated self-help book How to Do Nothing was written by artist and environmentalist, Jenny Odell, whose practice loosely belongs to the perplexing category of post-Internet art. Odell’s book does not contain any clear-cut lists, steps, programs, or formulas for a more optimized life, and in this way it is not particularly motivating. As the author admits early on, the title of her book is a minor deception, ‘do nothing’ is not in fact a call to enter a drug-induced Otessa Moshfegh style coma, or join a rural jam-making cult. The nothing of her title is, “nothing from the point of view of capitalist productivity” and rather than focus on transforming her reader’s psyche, she deconstructs our collective belief in productivity and the feeling that we’re always working.

Actually doing nothing is really hard, it makes us uncomfortable and squirmy, paranoid we might be missing out on something. These feelings are compounded by our devices and the design of attention-baiting apps which keep us endlessly accessible in a way that allows us little space to sustain or replenish our thoughts. There are many small, commonplace moments in which we feel some inner conflict as digital citizens, like when we sign those fine-print user agreements and sense implicitly that we are sacrificing something.

For me, there is nothing worse than losing the blank slate of an early Sunday morning- that could have been spent somewhere in the vast beautiful city in which I live, or absorbed in a book- to being caught in a tailspin of checking Instagram and drafting work emails. Odell reckons that our un-observed use of online networks leads to a kind of illusory precariousness; a sense that it is more perilous not to stay up scanning the news, answer an email or text promptly, or check a twitter feed, than it is to put down our devices. In drawing attention to the intersection of the physical and digital worlds that we inhabit, she considers what is at stake if we do not invest more in our collective experience in these spaces.

Moving fluidly between different subject areas, Odell binds labor rights to performance art to Greek philosophy and 1960s counter-culture communes. A characteristic ‘post-Internet’ concern with networks and origin stories shapes her tangential interests into a unified and personal reflection. One thread in which she explores the intersection of bio-regionalism and urban development ties the occupation of our time logged on to corporate-owned social media platforms, to the current nature of real estate development in US cities. Following this development is a popularisation of nostalgia-infused interior design (see Ruinophilia) that uses distressed or salvaged materials, without place-specific historical context. Meanwhile, our collective inheritance of exterior public spaces, such as national parks and recreational areas in cities, not linked to a commercial function, is diminishing.

This insightful connection between the encroachment on our personal time and attention as digital citizens, and non-commercial spaces as city-dwellers, is similarly described by writer Jeremiah Moss in his book Vanishing New York  as a process in which the wealthy and “risk-adverse” develop an urban area reproducing an aesthetic which gives them a sense of safety. In the online realm, this paving-over is akin to censorship and Odell pins (with a nod to Walter Benjamin) the reproduction of content, and the censorship or self-censorship of individuals to a commercial logic, with the aim of mass appeal.

The titular ‘how to’ of the book is spread out among its chapters and through minor forms of resistance she reminds us that rebellion can be outward as well as inward. “Some hybrid reaction is needed, we need to be able to do both: contemplate and participate, to leave and always come back, where we are needed.” The responsibility we feel to the networks we are part of is real, but the way we have become attuned to this reality is constructed in ways that are superficial and exploitive. Here I am reminded of  Donna Harraway’s 1985 Cyborg Manifesto, in which she describes the biggest threat to power as the “interruption of communication”, of the flow of information across boundaries. How to Do Nothing reckons with the practicality of creating our own boundaries as digital citizens, and ultimately leaves us with a sense of the fragility of the world outside, reminding readers that the material world is a source of originality and imagination. 

5 Best NYC Exhibitions of 2018

Projects 195, Park McArthur MoMA

If you haven’t already visited Projects 195: Park McArthur, this is one show you still have a chance to catch before it closes at the end of January. For MoMA’s Projects series McArthur has created a significant conceptual work of art that leaves most of the physical gallery space empty. The substance of this work is an audio guide narrated by a calm, didactic voice which instructs the audience in an exercise of the imagination. The narrator leads listeners through a non-existent mixed-use living and working space, detailing apartments, office spaces, artist studios, a pool with a ramp that is fully accessible for the disabled, a communal dining area and so on, producing a mental representation of a space and its community. Her utopian vision is accompanied by a modular model of the structure, set partially hidden in a corner of the gallery. Time spent visualising McArthur’s design within the conspicuously empty gallery (MoMA is in part the subject of this work) makes the surrounding spaces of the city pale in comparison. At the end of the audio recording the narrator informs us that all the features she has described exist, albeit in separate locations. That is to say, the space described is possible to create and this possibility leaves room for us to consider why it hasn’t been. According to the museum’s website, McArthur conceived Projects 195 as a response to the development of MoMA which will add “gallery space in an adjacent tower with 145 private luxury apartments above the museum”.
MoMA, Oct 27, 2018 – Jan 27, 2019.

The Racial Imaginary Institute : On Whiteness, The Kitchen

Still from Intolerable Whiteness (2018) by Seung-Min Lee.

During the summer months of 2018, when the art world was winding down amid the heat, The Racial Imaginary Institute offered viewers a ‘check-in’ on what whiteness means- in an era of highly visible white nationalism – and what it has meant in America. On Whiteness featured an impressive repertoire of established names (Cindy Sherman, Glen Ligon, Tim Rollins and K.O.S., Sandeep Mukherjee, Anicka Yi) as well as many emerging artists, brought together by the curators in response to feminist scholar Sarah Ahmed’s essay “A Phenomenology of Whiteness”, in which Ahmed wrote that whiteness is a “Habit” and “Something that is taken for granted”. The exhibition was a collaboration between 10 members of the Racial Imaginary Institute and The Kitchen’s curatorial team. The tone of the works displayed ranged from harrowing (a work from Ken Gonzales-Day’s Erased Lynchings series) to psychedelic (Mores McWreath’s surreal video installation, Spots) to comical, yet all contained kernels of insight.

Sandeep Mukherjee, Writing on Tree Skin (2018)

Performance artist Seung-Min Lee’s video, Intolerable Whiteness, on the cultural significance of milk in the US was an incisive, comedic bit that took as its catalyst the adoption of milk as the drink of choice for the Alt-right. Sandeep Mukherjee’s cascading ‘skin’ strips extended from the ceiling to the floor, eliciting the tactile presence of callused and weathered flesh, a compelling statement on the violence perpetrated against non-white bodies. In the press release, statements from the Racial Imaginary Institute and The Kitchen equated the show to a ‘radical disruption’, this however, it was not. The strength of this exhibition was in the variety of responses to whiteness in its many manifestations; together, these textured and nuanced ways of seeing did the work of penetrating a difficult subject and offered the audience moments to reflect on our relation to this subject.

The Kitchen, Jun 27-Aug 3, 2018.

Cathy Wilkes, MoMA PS1

Installation image, Cathy Wilkes (2018)

There is something melancholy about the former classrooms and halls that make up the galleries of MoMA PS1, a space once dedicated to the rituals of education, it provided the ideal environment for this monographic exhibition of Irish artist Cathy Wilkes. Wilkes is a master of making an uneasy external subject of the viewer. Each room of the exhibition contained a unique tableau giving the impression of many haunting moments. All of the leftovers of daily life, positioned by the artist in relation to each other, became clues or props that brought the viewer into the intimacy of mess, as one would encounter peeking into a stranger’s doorway. Walking through the galleries evoked the experience of witnessing an uninhabited house fall into disrepair and feeling the human life leave the space, only to discover the detritus left behind has a secret life that continues, mirroring the rituals of its former tenants. All of this gloom gave way to the sentimental in traces of Wilkes’ fastidious care with her chosen materials.
MoMA PS1, Oct 27, 2017- Mar 11, 2018.

Anri Sala, Marian Goodman

Installation image from The Last Resort (2017) by Anri Sala.

Anria Sala’s self-titled exhibition at Marian Goodman’s uptown gallery could be heard before it was seen. For the sonorous work, The Last Resort, the gallery space was painted a monotone dark-grey with dim lighting, giving the impression of being in an ominous chamber on the estate of a crazed multimillionaire. From the walls the swelling sound of an orchestra played a score based on Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto- thought of as the ultimate musical expression of the Enlightenment- altered by the artist to be accompanied by thirty-eight pattering snare drums. Fixed upside-down on the ceiling, the self-playing drums formed a sonic canopy in the main gallery space. Robotic drumsticks precisely struck the drums to create a beautiful rolling soundscape that worked in conversation with the concerto, creating an altogether different musical score. In the back gallery, Sala’s film If And Only If pictured a close up of a man playing a viola, the footage projected in double on a screen in front of the gallery wall and on the wall itself, creating a small time lapse between the two images. As with The Last Resort, the inner gallery space was similarly bathed in eerie classical music, this time Igor Stravinsky, slowed and warped because of the impact of a snail balanced on the tip of the player’s bow. Both films have gained critical acclaim and are wonderful developments in Sala’s exploration of sound, perception, and the history of ideas.
Marian Goodman, Mar 2- Apr 14, 2018

Songs for Sabotage: The 2018 New Museum Triennial

Claudia Martínez Garay, Cannon Fodder (2018)

The 2018 New Museum Triennial received lot of criticism such as the review from New York Magazine’s Jerry Saltz who described it as ‘too woke for you’. The consensus among many writers seemed to be that works from the exhibition were mired in geopolitics and required too much of their audience (especially the average viewer). Biennials and Triennials are a funny thing like that, curatorial decisions and announcements always make the first headlines, and the work itself can be lost in the spectacle of art world politics and abstruse curatorial texts.

The fact that the works in this exhibition were evaluated as inaccessible is defensible, surely a lot of art seems pretentious and inaccessible to the ‘average viewer’. But, I also find this argument to be disingenuous, people relate to artwork in all manner of ways, and many times their reactions are unpredictable. While Songs for Sabotage was on display I visited the show frequently (especially on Thursday evenings when admission is pay-what-you-wish) drawn back by the dynamic energy of these young artists creating from vastly different life experiences. Politics and academic posturing aside, the highlights of Songs for Sabotage included, Claudia Martínez Garay’s Cannon Fodder/Cheering Crowds , Daniela Ortiz’s reimagined public monuments in àngels bercelona, and Wilmer Wilson’s series of dazzling, staple-covered portraits.
The New Museum of Contemporary Art, Feb 13, 2018- May 27, 2018.