Few portions of art history have been reframed as many times as early Modernism. Never mind that a century has passed. The potent visual vocabularies of Constructivism and Suprematism continue to excercise an outsized influence on contemporary painting, particularly on those parts that lean toward hybridity. Such painting, also known as Abstract Conceptualism, can be maddeningly referential; much of it points everywhere and nowhere, often with too few real-world guideposts. Success, therefore, necessarily depends on who’s doing the reframing.
New York artist Dannielle Tegeder does a fine job of it. Her geometric drawings – made of vectors, overlapping planes, odd shapes and transparent volumes that run off the edges – appear, at first glance, to be homages to El Lissitsky, Malevich and Kandinksy. But they are much more. To understand why, you need to see a large exhibit of her work because each element of her multi-faced oeuvre – which includes drawing, painting, wall installations, mobiles, video and freestanding sculpture – is designed to work in tandem. One
such event took place last spring at the Wellin Museum in Clinton, New York. There, Tegeder demonstrated, among other things, that space is an elastic notion: extensible in two or three dimensions, possibly four if you count sound. Within those realms she moved easily from intimate drawings to wall-sized installations, as if translating ideas into objects involves only the projection of mental energy, not physical problem solving. Happily, a copy of the exhibition catalog is on view in the gallery. It gives context to the vastly reduced (but representative) sampling of the work seen here.
Individually, the drawings that comprise Library more than carry the load. Color is applied sparingly to basic forms: concentric circles and irregular geometric shapes that are connected by thin pencil lines. Some are drawn directly on the paper; others are collaged. The compositions, while precisely balanced, have a provisional feel, as if the elements were interchangeable, modular. But, as with everything Tegeder does, the suite takes on power when viewed as a collective whole, not as a series of discrete compositions. The same holds for the larger drawings. They employ the same forms, but appear on grounds of solid, strong colors – colors that by all rights should influence our emotional responses, but don’t. Instead, we’re struck more by how the shapes interact, with how lines move through space and swerve into riotous, cubist clusters or disappear into irregularly shaped solids. Overall, these are spooky pictures. They speak of an underworld, of things concealed yet palpably real.
Looking at this show reminded me of when I used to stare at Manhattan from the Brooklyn waterfront and wonder: how can all of this exist? I was imagining the maze of interlocking systems that allow a city to function. I imagine Tegeder having many such thoughts. Her art doesn’t answer my question, but it certainly gives shape to it. Many shapes, in fact.