Activating Absence In Lenz Geerk’s Mixed Blessings

at Roberts Projects, Los Angeles (through 12 October)
Reviewed by Eve Wood

It’s very difficult to create a cohesive and engaging narrative with a suite of only five paintings. It’s inevitable that some works appear more central to the narrative structure than others, and in many cases the viewer is left out of the narrative loop altogether. So, it is particularly satisfying to discover work by an artist that holds up so beautifully in terms of creating an engaging and comprehensive story in only five works. In almost all of Lenz Geerk’s paintings there is either a door or a door frame, which suggests the convergence of the past with the present as we step through an open door into the future or remain behind the door in what metaphorically could suggest the past. What is interesting is that Geerk’s figures appear poised between worlds, as though the open doors were mirrors of self-reflection rather than actual tangible objects. The space of the paintings is activated by absence, by ghostly figures for whom there is no expiation, only the blurred boundaries between what was and what will be.

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The Croissant, 2019. All images courtesy of the artist and Roberts Projects, LosAngeles

One might argue that Geerk is subverting a traditionally domestic space within each of these paintings as there are elements here that directly suggest domestic values, including a dining room table on which sits a single croissant. The title, The Croissant, is simple yet enigmatic, as are the man and woman sitting at the table. Again, as in other works, the figures appear not to be interacting, and the croissant itself sits untouched between them. Indeed, their central focus is internal not external as both individuals seem to be held in abeyance to their own private musings. The croissant becomes an after-thought in an otherwise charged emotional landscape. Geerk also utilizes gesture as a means of explicating the deeper emotional content within the work. The man leans over the table awkwardly, his legs stiff and angular behind him, his head turned toward the viewer whereas the young woman’s long and elegant stockinged legs extend effortlessly out beneath the table. Again, the pairs of legs appear in opposition to each other, creating even more tension between them. The expression on the young man’s face is oddly disquieting, as though he were listening to the private whisperings of the lone and lonesome croissant. In this artist’s world, objects don’t function as they are meant to, so the croissant will likely never be eaten, but is instead used as a point of focus, its own singular vessel of longing.

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Untitled, 2019

In practically all of the paintings there is something oddly disproportionate or out of place. For example, in Untitled, a woman stands beside a bright yellow wall and near a doorway, her features calm yet pensive, yet it is her unusually large hands that catch our attention. Unlike Picasso, who exaggerated the size and shape of his women’s hands and feet as a monolithic gesture of ownership and his own artistic mastery of them, here the woman’s oversized hands are seen as sensual and comforting as she wraps them around her own body. They might also suggest a means of empowerment as the woman appears on the brink of sudden change or profound connection to something beyond even her own understanding. Perhaps she will finally decide to turn and walk through that doorway. This painting, as with others in the series, posits a relationship between two things — in this case the woman herself and the small drawing pinned to the opposite wall. There is no clear or obvious connection between the two, yet it is the possibility that a relationship exists at all that holds our interest.

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Croissant, 2019

In another painting entitled Pearl Painting and Pearl Necklace, the artist carries the relationship between the figure and the art object one step further as the woman is seen putting on a pearl necklace, the exact likeness of which is represented on the wall beside her. One is reminded of Vermeer’s wonderfully enigmatic Girl with the Pearl Earring. As in that luminous painting, the pearl becomes the focal point, the figure’s gaze centered around the task of affixing the glowing orb to her ear.

The most striking painting in the show is the smallest, entitled Croissant. Again, the central figure, this time in the background, peers into the foreground at a single croissant on a table. The painting is dark and, again, there is the single doorway suggesting a separation of time and space. Geerk has purposefully muddied the image, so the croissant appears mottled and ghostly and the woman’s gaze into the room betrays an insatiable longing. The croissant, in all its buttery deliciousness, can never return the woman’s gaze, which makes the painting strangely comical yet also heartbreaking. In the end, what we are left with is the sense that we are living in a world that values uncertainty and disconnection above all else, and that we must each of us learn to forge relationships where and when we can, even if that means communing solely with a slab of bread.

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RIOT MATERIAL is LA’s premier literary-cultural magazine with an eye on art, word, and forward-aiming thought. Check out our gallery on IG: @ riotmaterial.

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