Founded by Christina Nafziger and Abel Sommers Braughton, Middle Child Gallery officially opened its doors in April for their inaugural exhibition, “Haunted Nostalgia: the mall will be closing in 10 minutes…” featuring the work of Katie Neece.
The gallery walls, flattened with subdued fuchsia, serve as a backdrop for the eerie yet enchanted body of work Neece provides the viewer. The aesthetic is aggressively established by oil paintings depicting puzzling graphic landscapes, recognized as from a different time, but unable to be placed in visual history. Rather than digesting these paintings as a representation of a previous paradigm, they project the future. Most importantly, the paintings place the viewer in the headspace of the last two decades of the twentieth century, and project the future of design as we had imagined, then how it would look now. The result feels familiar but unsettling, not quite decided if this was a failure of our collective imagination. “Haunted Nostalgia: the mall will be closing in 10 minutes…” offers a glimpse of the future collectively imagined during the past in the same way that we thought malls would be the future of efficient civilized shopping as they now shutter their doors one after another.
“Topaz Room” depicts a flat seafoam backdrop layered with long, leaf-shaped planes of gradiating baby pinks and sage greens descend top to bottom like tiger claw slashes. Floating in the center of the canvas is a pearl-shaped form, daring the viewer to try to reach in and grasp it. Introduced here is Neece’s profound ability to apply oil to canvas as if she’s using a Photoshop toolbox. Seamless gradients, distinct separate layers, stark-lined shapes, and the animated floating pearl all point to a digital graphic landscape.
This digital graphic landscape remains true across each painting, and is well exemplified in “Moonlighting.” A black curtain-like form with gold trim opens up and reveals planes of pigeon silver gray and sandy taupe illuminating from a central source imagined just above the canvas. Gradiating planes ribbon across and on top of one another. Strong drop-shadows behind each form propel the planes forward at varying degrees, creating a staggering depth of field. The drop shadows behind three cream leaf forms specifically are what make this notable. The distance between shadow and form are slightly too wide to be perceivable as natural, generating a balanced tightrope walk between the real and surreal, the analog and digital.
The nostalgic look toward a future imagined in the past is articulated sublimely in two paintings: “Strut” and “Whine Club.” “Strut” depicts a black-and-white top-to-bottom gradient background with a flat cherry-red circle filling up the canvas. In front of the circle is a black-and-white left-to-right gradient rectangle, as well as the now-familiar ribbon forms introduced elsewhere in the exhibition. In “Whine Club,” an explosion of oranges and seafoam planes of color with folded zig-zagging forms pepper the canvas. Both paintings unlock an aesthetic we confidently planned to embrace, but never quite came to fruition. “Haunted Nostalgia: the mall will be closing in 10 minutes…” pulls a tiny speck from the depths of our collective pre-Y2K memory, and places it under a microscope. The result is a sensational exhibition full of befuddling, alleviating unease, mirroring the same feelings of a day spent at the mall.
“Haunted Nostalgia: the mall will be closing in 10 minutes…” at Middle Child Gallery, 2233 South Throop, Mana Contemporary #950. On view through May 28.