The great twentieth-century-critic Clement Greenberg, equally revered and reviled, said that “flatness” was the ineluctable quality of painting. The smooth canvas plane, he argued, upon which the artist applies her pigments, simply cannot be denied.
I’ve thought a lot about that statement in the twenty-five years since I first read it, and I’ve come to the conclusion that its wrong. Not out of any quarrel with Greenberg. I unabashedly (and unfashionably) admire his work and his thinking about modernist painting. But rather because a three-dimensional object decorated with paint is just that. Even if its surface is flat. A painting, on the other hand, as both a metaphysical object and a mental conception, requires a little something else: the illusion of depth.
This is where New York-based artist Meg Lipke comes in. Her fantastic new exhibition “Moon Tempo” at DOCUMENT draws these aesthetic and philosophical considerations to the surface. And her visual argument is made all the more persuasive by the fact that, until recently, Lipke was known for creating large-scale soft sculptures that she painted on. Though she considered them “paintings,” their three-dimensionality far outweighed their painterly and, critically, their illusory qualities. These new works upend that calculus.
Essentially rectangular, each of the eight acrylic and gouache canvases on display are still shaped, but subtly. Like all the works in the show, the blue-violet title track “Moon Tempo” features a single, gently curved corner that acknowledges the objecthood of the support without disrupting the fantastic world the artist has created within it. The illusion is vital, expansive and abstract. We think we’re casting our gaze onto a jagged landscape filled with fractured forms and striped patterns, and just as suddenly we’re staring at a jigsaw puzzle of teal shapes. The tension of the image reifies and amplifies the tension inherent in the shape of the canvas.
As it is in politics, so it is in art: differences are most visible at the poles and the most interesting things tend to happen in the gray areas. But the center can be its own kind of extreme. A zone of infinitely churning relativity where being all things (for example both a painting and a sculpture) means being neither and nothing. Without needing to brandish a conceptual saber to pose these provocative questions, Lipke’s first solo show in Chicago takes the challenge of the center head-on and is one of the most beautiful and thoughtful shows currently on display. (Alan Pocaro)
“Moon Tempo” is on view through April 22 at DOCUMENT, 1709 West Chicago.