by Kristen Wawruck
What lies behind the lines? The venerable artist, designer and architect Barbara Stauffacher Solomon poses this question in one of the 30 or so drawings from SUPER-SILLY-US—her 2014 book that also lends its title to an exhibition currently on view at Marin MOCA. The show pairs this work by Stauffacher Solomon with new paintings, drawings, and prints by Nellie King Solomon, her daughter. The answer to what lies behind the lines could be “a grid,” as both artists rely on Cartesian coordinates, albeit with very different intents and ends in mind. Organized to showcase the artists’ practices in dialogue, the exhibition provides a modest glimpse onto the elder Solomon’s practice—a modernist with the conviction to “make the invisible visible,” but with levity—and a broad cross-section of work by the younger artist, a painter who meanders from the abstract to the narrative.
Though the title might imply a high level of light-spirited collaboration, the show separates the artists across two galleries. Stauffacher Solomon’s signature Supergraphics greet visitors entering the museum with Land(e)scape (2023), where three bold cinnabar lines flank opposing lobby walls. Similar patterns repeat in the main gallery, with black versions framing both the space and groupings of drawings hung at eye level around the room. The soaring diagonals visually continue the lines of the lobby ceiling’s exposed wooden beams. The forms recall military insignia and refer to the history of the building—built in the 1930s as part of an Army airfield when Spanish-revival architecture was in vogue. In between the sets of lines are the pages from SUPER-SILLY-US, descriptively subtitled [Six Months at the Sheraton] [Or Mazy’s 180 Days in a Maze] [A Comic Book for Architects]. Stauffacher Solomon created this series of collages, drawings, concrete poems, and texts during a six-month hotel stay necessitated by home repairs. While her well-known architectural interventions can be appreciated from multiple vantage points, this book—which mixes Surrealist, Dada, and Pop styles in an absurdist tale—demands intimate viewing. Ever responsive to the spaces she works in, Stauffacher Solomon overlays the book’s vellum pages atop printouts of Marin MOCA’s floorplans. The viewer’s own vantage point lies behind the lines here, underneath the anthropomorphic floorplans and disembodied appendages set atop mazes, windows, and buildings, which together, offer a peek into Stauffacher Solomon’s tireless, multifaceted practice and sense of humor. (A small but powerful show currently on view at SFMOMA reveals even more evidence of her singular design sensibility.)
The fact that Solomon King also trained as an architect is less evident in the monumentally scaled paintings that comprise most of her gallery presentation. What is clear, however, is the influence of her mother’s design sensibilities with a new series of intentionally referential paintings. Taking inspiration from the “u” and “s” shapes of Stauffacher Solomon’s show title designs, UUUUU 12-16 (2021) covers the entirety of the wall facing the main gallery, creating a direct visual relationship connecting both artists’ sets of black lines. While Stauffacher Solomon’s hard-edged matte lines are precisely situated, Solomon King’s versions are gestural curves of black and yellow acrylic swept fast across a Mylar surface within an underlying grid. The fluid but controlled motif repeats and then comes apart with the aptly titled UnRaveled 1 and UnRaveled Diptych 5-6 (2022). Paint leaves the Mylar surface with the top panel of the latter work, a glittery blob heading off into a new plane outside of the frame. Elsewhere, intuitive and amorphous compositions like Diamond Cloud 1 and Diamond Cloud 2 (2022) consciously contrast with the plotted universe dominating the show by evoking lily pads or amoebas or other natural forms that defy grids.
To free the lines from a gallery context, a parked 1967 Ford Econoline pickup continues (or begins) the exhibition on the museum’s lawn. The vehicle is decked out in familiar red “u” and “s” Supergraphic curves by Solomon King that appear to be the inverse of an iconic Sea Ranch design by Stauffacher Solomon. What does it mean to replicate a groundbreaking style nearly 60 years later and put it on a hippie surf mobile outfitted with a DJ booth and bar? Is it a deliberate reclamation of the countercultural ambitions of Sea Ranch, a utopian high-design commune that was coopted by the wealthy as a vacation community? Perhaps it’s just fun, a playful tribute in line with the show’s “super silly” title, and a shared sentiment between two artists not concerned with taking things too seriously.
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Barbara Stauffacher Solomon & Nellie King Solomon: “SUPER-SILLY-US” @ Marin MOCA through June 4, 2023.
Cover image: Nellie King Solomon: 1967 Ford Econoline with Supergraphics, 2023, color print, 12 x 12 inches.
About the author: Kristen Wawruck is an arts worker, writer, and curator. Prior to moving to the Bay Area, she was the Deputy Director of Swiss Institute in New York.