Through July 17
By Olivia Jia
In keeping with its name, Bedrock unearths the personal relic embedded both in geological strata and beneath the metaphorical skin of the subconscious. The exhibition, on view at Tiger Strikes Asteroid through July 17th, is a journey from macro to micro, and vice versa; the works of Robert Straight, Adam Lovitz, and Rachel Klinghoffer work in tandem to describe the cosmos within and around us. Robert Straight’s paintings are colorful, abstract compositions that remind me of tectonic plates and diagrams of cells. Where Straight’s paintings function as images of these phenomena, with incredibly uniform surfaces, Lovitz’s smaller paintings seem like experiments in material mimicry; these process-based abstractions are at once alchemical and flesh-like, and the face is painted with wonderfully confident and carnivalesque crudeness.
Lovitz’s and Straight’s paintings are installed in relation to Klinghoffer’s plaster-like sculptures. Klinghoffer collects objects of personal or broad cultural significance and combines and embeds them in magic sculpt, pigment, and paint. The materials listed range from “sneaker” to “husband’s childhood worry stone,” “tin yitzkor star of David” to “beetle wing.” The resulting objects are gorgeously awkward and often figurative. I see her work as the key to the exhibition; without the intimacy and physicality of her sculptures, Lovitz’ and Straight’s paintings could quickly revert to the detached and intellectual state in which abstract painting so often exists. Their works’ relation to the subject of “bedrock” is contextualized by the specificity of Klinghoffer’s lovingly awkward constructions. Lovitz’s paintings become defined as skin-like or geological only when they live in Klinghoffer’s space of “crochet lace by husband’s great grandmother” and “used sandals.”
Klinghoffer’s sculptural constructions become fragile, Frankenstein artifacts of the process by which they are made, their marbled plaster-like surfaces holding a strange relationship to the authenticity we reserve especially for the historied object. They are particularly interesting to consider in contrast with Adrián Villar Rojas’s 2015 exhibition Two Suns at Marian Goodman Gallery. Rojas’s installation likewise addressed the embedding of ephemera within a surface, but where Two Suns was apocalyptic, Klinghoffer’s sculptures retain optimistic quiescence.
Klinghoffer’s sculptures hold a dual identity: they are artifacts, yet they become sites for excavation in themselves, a kind of end of the treasure map, a body of material that may or may not contain all that is promised by the language of the exhibition checklist. Her titles are playful remarks on womanhood – You can’t be too flirty, mama (2016) is accompanied by a material list nearly a paragraph long, detailing her personal relationship to these items. Therein lies the magic of Klinghoffer’s work. I accept the truthfulness of her material lists, yet her sculptures also remind me of the magical moment before a reality is revealed, in which every clamshell holds a pearl, and each sweepstakes cereal box a winning code. Klinghoffer’s sculptures freeze this moment, and we are left in a state of anticipation for a discovery that will never occur.
This tension is especially apparent in the piece at the end of the room, Here beside the rising tide (2015), which is my favorite of her sculptures. Unlike her other pieces in Bedrock, the objects themselves are more thoroughly hidden from sight, shrouded by layers of artificial sediment. The sculpture becomes more wholly an artifact, as we must spend time with it, decoding its forms, finding the relationship between “found wood,” “used sandals,” “diamonds,” and “crochet lace.” This sculpture is the object that most firmly opens the realm of possible identities, becoming readily figurative and bearing totemic and ritualistic aura. It has a head, a torso, and a leg, but it is anthropomorphized only with physical relationship to the personal detritus of its composition. I prefer this piece to You can’t be too flirty mama and Pony girl does her own stunts (2016), simply because Here beside the rising tide holds a stranger and more potent aura; it attains a deeper historical and geological time frame. It becomes difficult to categorize, and we are implicated in its unveiling; we observe and analyze it as archaeologists might, present-at-hand. Klinghoffer’s other sculptures are aesthetically compelling, but the objects embedded within them are more obviously defined as contemporary trinkets, readily exposed and lending a kind of kitsch sensibility that speeds the read of her work tenfold.
In relation to these sculptures, where the artist’s hand carefully enthrones objects that make up her own identity, Adam Lovitz’s paintings become deeply personal. His acrylic paintings on panel are small and remind me of icon and devotional painting. Where Klinghoffer literalizes intimacy by the inclusion of used bras and religious trinkets, Lovitz seems to delve into the intimacy of psychic space with art historical references as his weapon. Smallpox and tobacco reminds me of German Expressionist angst, and wet grass becomes a poignant abstract color field. Their scale resists machismo and pretension, and they are incredibly meditative, quiet paintings. Lovitz’s work is at its best when installed at an accessible height, at which his material nuances may be discerned; I mourned air (2015) for its lofty perch.
The images painted on Robert Straight’s works are fairly conventional geometric abstractions, but they attain sci-fi weirdness upon his custom-shaped canvases. They become like pods or portals to another dimension; the green radial pattern in P-554 (2015) is both radar screen and psychedelic experience. After Klinghoffer’s Here beside the rising tide, P-557 (2015)— Straight’s largest painting—is the most bodily of the works in terms of scale. The solidly painted organic shapes conform to the tapered, oblong canvas; it is as if the canvas is the cell wall from a biological diagram. Alternatively, the abstraction reads as topography, with tangent points demarcating points of note.
It is perhaps an unfair assumption to think of Tiger Strikes Asteroid as merely the locus of colorful, formalist painting in Philadelphia, for this identity is rapidly shifting and traversing uncharted waters. Recent exhibitions by Ezra Masch and Jeremy Maas introduced new and experimental media to the collective’s vernacular. Yet I still associate TSA with formalist work that errs on the side of conservatism. The changing landscape of Tiger Strikes Asteroid’s exhibition roster inherently produces a question: how does an institution retain its identity within a rapidly expanding community of artist collectives, while maintaining relevance? Personally, I find that Bedrock becomes the ideal amalgam of TSA’s formal roots and experimental trajectory. Through deft curation, the works in Bedrock combine and interact as a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts; formalist painting and its conventions are recontextualized by the introduction of Klinghoffer’s work. As meaning and material are synonymous within her sculptures, Klinghoffer provides a physical grounding for Bedrock’s content, and likewise benefits from proximity to Straight’s playful compositions and Lovitz’s intimate windows into psychological space.
Olivia Jia is a painting student at the University of the Arts.