09.09 - 30.10.2011
CLEARING, Brooklyn, NY

By Kareem Estefan

To Fallow / To Follow

One of Brooklyn’s newest art spaces, C L E A R I N G, was founded in February 2011 by two artists who left Europe for New York: Harold Ancart, from Brussels, and Olivier Babin, from Paris. Since its inception, the gallery has organized a series of energetic group shows with evocative titles like “Stone Soup” and “Tranches de Savoir” inviting visitors into the intimate and sun-soaked, but by no means central, space. Located amidst warehouses in the emerging art district of Bushwick, C L E A R I N G now aims to transform its industrial environment with a three-person show eloquently called “To Fallow / To Follow.” To let farmland lie fallow — or less commonly, “to fallow” — is to plow the land, but leave it unsown; it is a stage of planned inactivity to be followed by a period of production. Analytical and searching, yet materially modest, the paintings and sculptures in this show suggest an artistic mode of “fallowness” by critically breaking apart forms while, at their best, hinting at a practice to come.

The six works by German-born, Brooklyn-based artist Robert Janitz — another expat close to the gallery’s operations — are abstract, nearly monochrome paintings with scraped and uneven surfaces. Opaque and provisional, they invite the gaze an artist might give a work in process. In the past, Janitz has aimed to alter the process of looking by direct means, mounting his paintings on cardboard, for example; here, he paints the wall behind Nymphéas and After Courbet (all works 2011) a gray reminiscent of the Paris salons in which Courbet and Monet showed. Janitz’s variations on the monochrome and his exploration of canvas sides recall Ryman more than any Realist or Impressionist, but the titles place his work in a progressive history of modernist painting. With its white paint thickly applied, and then muddied, over forest greens and pond blues that linger in the corners like dormant landscapes, After Courbet appears as a veiled palimpsest. Yet the other paintings (all slightly larger, at 24-by-20 inches) do not imply a repressed representational content; their dense, variable surfaces are themselves the subject, to an extent that Clement Greenberg might have applauded.

Belgian artist Koenraad Dedobbeleer’s sculptures share a pensive quality with Janitz’s paintings, but on a more conceptual plane. Full of Rouse and Cunning is a Plexiglas box containing a stack of 2,500 sheets of paper, each showing a scanned scattering of pennies, nickels, and dimes that add up to a dollar in value. The Xeroxed pages depicting coins didactically illustrate the arbitrariness of currency and the technologically enhanced abstraction of advanced capitalist economy. The punch line is the price tag: $2,500. Dedobeleer’s other sculptures are less overt, both conceptually and physically; two lean against a pillar, one is fastened to the wall, and another functions as the gallery’s sole table. Yet upon closer inspection, even these come with theoretical heft, if not heavy-handedness: a granite slab nestled inside an apparently identical but much cheaper Formica container is called Division of Labor .

Zak Kitnick, the youngest of the three (born 1984), contributes to the show under the separate title “To Follow.” For Study for an Indoor Sculpture, he drilled a small hole in the gallery’s central pillar, which conceals gas pipes, as if to allow the mind room to imagine the building’s internal organs. With Everybody Overseas, Kitnick assembled found rusted steel into a geometric sculpture outside a gallery window, where it nicely suits the tagged brick wall. Billed as a “sculpture park” by the gallery, Kitnick’s piece anticipates a further extension of the art space into its industrial environment; a playful re-shaping of unrefined materials and abstruse concepts once the urban soil is ripe.