Elegant Rigor (and Shit)
Plainsight, Plainspoken: Corey Antis and Anna Neighbor
Through February 23rd
By Daniel Gerwin
The tiny Rebekah Templeton gallery starts out the year with a strong show: Corey Antis and Anna Neighbor come at their work differently but pair up beautifully, with well-crafted works that reverberate to considerable depths. Antis, a former Philadelphia local who left for a job at the Kansas City Art Institute, holds the center of the room with a table presenting a group of seductive sculptural objects that he does not think of as sculptures. These objects are in dialogue with his two-dimensional paintings, which share the walls with Neighbor’s works based in photography and video.
Neighbor, a long-time member of Vox Populi and past winner of the Fleisher Wind Challenge, delves into the problem of forging a personal, bodily relationship with the impersonal universe. A photograph of a streaky cloud vaguely resembling a vertebral column is marked with charcoal lines drawn by Neighbor’s six year-old daughter (Seeing (#1, Spine), 2013). A picture of the most distant known object in the universe (a galaxy 13.3 billion light years away) has been briefly chewed by Neighbor and pinned to the wall (Chewing the Most Distant Object in the Universe, 2012), suggesting a literal attempt to digest the universe in which she finds herself. To cover the other end of the GI tract, she presents a video in which she takes a rather conceptual shit on a polished hardwood floor (The Light Is Just So Beautiful, 2012). As she squats over a geometric patch of sunshine, the action is shot discreetly in a honeyed atmosphere, establishing a different territory than Paul McCarthy’s in-your-face approach, Rembrandt’s earthy etchings of pooping people and dogs, or Piero Manzoni’s ninety cans of Artist’s Shit that comment on production and the market.
On the central table (Natural History, 2012), all but two of Antis’ objects are shaped like rocks, painstakingly carved and sanded to highlight the beauty of the striping in the plywood from which most of them are made. The shapes resemble the large decorative rocks often made from Jasper, Agate, or Geode, sliced and polished on one side and used as bookends or coffee table ornaments. He has painted at least one facet of each, so that the juxtaposition of wood and paint pulls these objects a good distance from the collectible rocks they otherwise suggest. Also on the table are two wooden “book” pieces whose versimilitude stops short of trompe l’oeil, driving the works to function more as representations than illusions. Antis views these three-dimensional works as paintings that wrap around their supports.
His more traditional paintings resemble nothing specifically recognizable, except that they depict familiar three-dimensional space and in this sense share the same world as the objects on the table. “There is no abstract art. You must always start with something,” Picasso famously said, and in fact Antis’ paintings on panel are observational recordings of arrangments he has set up in his studio, just as his table of objects relates to actual books and rocks. Antis pursues seeing and depicting into a nebulous territory where things become increasingly slippery as you try to grasp them. Neighbor’s An Attempt, 2013, also addresses the problem of firmly taking hold of an idea or anything else: it depicts a thumbless hand trying to pick up a pencil. This hand would be hard pressed to write and thus is disabled with respect to logos, the ordering and recording of rational knowledge. The focus for both Antis and Neighbor is rather on the original Greek concept of aisthesis, knowledge obtained through the senses that is irreducible to logic, reason, or morality.
Both artists chew on the world around them, but as Neighbor shows us in more detail than we might like, it is impossible to fully absorb anything. There is always what cannot be assimilated, and it is here that Neighbor and Antis stake their claim.