Review: “Process” at Antenna Gallery

Angela Piehl, Shivaree, 2012. Colored pencil on black paper. Courtesy the artist.

Antenna Gallery
3718 St. Claude Avenue
September 14–October 6, 2013

Featuring works by Christopher McNulty, Angela Piehl, and Ying Zhu, “Process” is a thought-provoking installation at Antenna Gallery that, to its credit, fails to live up to its advertising. The show was curated from Antenna’s annual open call, and claims to highlight how the three artists “relate the intimate processes of self discovery in diverse and visually striking representations.”

Fortunately, it does little of the sort: in the majority of works on view, self-discovery is mercifully distant, and what we find instead is careful, nuanced technique and expertise. This is particularly true in the works of Piehl and McNulty. Piehl, for instance, creates abstract drawings in colored pencil and graphite on paper, offering lush, baroque forms whose overall abstraction belies their specific invocations of materials: hair, feathers, fabric, pearl, petals, and honeycomb. Piehl, an artist who regularly explores feminine identity through queered perspectives, here renders sensuous curves, folds, and shapes with a remarkable mastery whose seamlessness of transition feels as natural as a shoreline on a beach. Worth special mention are her smaller works, tight compact expressions such as Feeler, 2011, or Grapnel, 2011.

A draftsman in his own right, McNulty’s works on view come from a larger series in which he renders the approximately 20,000 remaining days of his life into precise, methodical interventions on paper. In works such as 20,270 Days, 2006, and 19,476 Days, 2008, McNulty makes those same number of marks on paper using such tools as a burnt stylus or graphite, the meticulousness of his forms (tallies and tiny crosses) echoing the meditativeness of a Buddhist sand mandala. Proving that small gestures repeated over time can yield significant impact, in 20,097 Days, 2007, that number of drops of saline deposited on canvas yields a circle, almost imperceptible, a half-shade lighter than the material itself.

Other works follow in this vein, but the centerpiece of the series is 20,249 Days (2007), a large-scale work created from throwing a dart into a sheet of paper. Here the use of the hole-as-material produces a beautiful manifestation of a circular scatterplot (McNulty’s aim was scarcely perfect) in which the destroyed paper takes on its own forms. At the center of the work, where the paper staggers outward towards the viewer like the rim of a volcano, its newfound shadows overlap and blend, hang like ornaments on a tree, speckled through with light from the other holes: an effect giving the piece not just form but volume and texture, a powerful meditation whose strange starkness transforms otherwise humble materials into something altogether glorious.

Christopher McNulty, 20,249 Days (detail), 2006. Dart holes on paper. Courtesy the artist.