The Universe As Canvas For Inscrutable Wonder

Vija Celmins
at Matthew Marks Gallery, West Hollywood
Reviewed by Christopher Michno

In a world increasingly short of attention, Vija Celmins has for more than four decades been depicting a narrowly delimited set of subjects with a degree of emotional distance that has offered expansive space for reflective thought. In her current exhibition at Matthew Marks Gallery in West Hollywood, Celmins returns again to these same subjects—the surface of the ocean and views of the night sky, littered, as it were, with stars. Accompanying the paintings, mezzotints and drypoints of these familiar motifs are examples of Celmins’ formal dexterity applied to trompe l’oeil objects, paired with real world counterparts: two rocks, one, a painted bronze, the other, geologic artifact; and two sets of blackboards, each set comprised of a fabrication and its found partner. These six objects engage themes that run beneath the immediate surface of her constructions: the natural world, and human systems of knowledge that reflect our constant probing of that world.

As noted in “Arresting Ambiguity: Vija Celmins in the 1960s,” Michelle White’s essay for the Menil Collection and LACMA exhibition of 2010 – 2011, in the early ’60s Celmins’ paintings of common, functional objects found in her Los Angeles studio utilized a kind of trompe l’oeil approach in a nearly grisaille palette. She later applied these methods to her repeated investigations of ocean, desert and night sky, her use of both trompe l’oeil and grisaille tracing back to this early work. Her night sky paintings are subtly inflected with color, hovering somewhere between Romanticism and the real…

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Untitled #1, 2016
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Untitled #4, 2016

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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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