Exhibition Pick: Vanessa Centeno

Ann Hackett visits Vanessa Centeno’s solo show at The Front and reflects on the vicissitudes of summer.

Vanessa Centeno, Sunset CruisiN, 2016. Acrylic on canvas. Courtesy the artist.

Vanessa Centeno
The Front
4100 St. Claude Avenue
July 9–August 7, 2016

Summer in New Orleans is unbearably hot and humid. There are no idyllic sun-soaked beaches, no leisurely afternoon picnics, and even leaving your air-conditioned house can seem physically and emotionally daunting. But Vanessa Centeno’s “Summer Crush,” currently on view at The Front, is an exploration of a different kind of summer vacation, one full of freedom and possibility.

Centeno’s paintings are traditional only in that they are made of canvas, covered in pigment, and hang on the wall. Otherwise they avoid the conventions of representative painting. Instead Centeno colors her canvases in vibrant gradients and folds them over themselves to create amorphous objects that extend from the vertical plane of the wall. She accents them with vinyl, fur, and glitter in bright blues, purples, and greens.

In Sunset CrusiN, 2016, Centeno leaves the fraying edges of the canvas visible, reminding us of her raw materials. The orange and pink canvas is curled around a spurt of pink and blue painted strips and mounted in front of a blue vinyl semicircle. Looking at it, I see a peachy perversion of a sailboat from a Ralph Lauren ad or a photograph of a Kennedy summer vacation. In another piece, Opia Embrace, 2016, Centeno mounds up sherbet-colored sparkling shafts that seem to represent the udders of a dairy cow grazing on the side of the road. By expanding our idea of what a painting can look like, “Summer Crush” turns our experience of the season on its head, and walking out of Centeno’s show on a sticky, buggy evening, I feel an abrupt optimism about what the rest of the summer might bring.