Circle, square, triangle — kaleidoscope rose? Shapes are familiar to us all from a young age; the elegance of geometry is used to bring an innate structure to the way we see the world. In art, which is often used to shine a light on an idea or indicate something about ourselves, abstraction taking on the geometric form can organize fragmented thoughts, decompress or distill the anxieties of the world and convey meaning on an intuitive level otherwise difficult to pin down. This is the theme of a new show at the Dorsky Gallery in Long Island City.
“Geometric abstraction has been around art and art history for a long time, in Western art at the beginning of the 20th century, but also longer ago in non-Western cultures ... so I really wanted this show to connect to what’s happening today, and why it’s still a relevant form of artistic practice,” Curator Gabriel de Guzman said.
Programming for the exhibition, “Disarming Geometries,” will support this concept. A panel discussion, “Inspired by Geometry in Islamic Art,” set for Feb. 19 at 2:30 p.m., which will feature two of the show’s sculptors, Samantha Holmes and Armita Raafat, and a physicist, Peter J. Lu, will explore how patterns in Islamic art and architecture form an intersection of geometry, art and science and how these concepts are applied in the modern day.
De Guzman conceived “Disarming Geometries” with artists he has worked with in the recent past, chiefly through his position as curator of visual arts at Wave Hill, a garden and cultural center in the Bronx, as well as through participation in the Bronx Museum’s Artist in the Marketplace program, which provides emerging artists with professional development opportunities. Nearly all of the artists in “Disarming Geometries” are AIM alumni. The artists’ featured media are diverse: textiles, sculptures, collages, acrylic and oil paintings, video projection, photograms and even a virtual-reality experience.
Some of the artists’ work is easily traced back to its geometric elements, fractured into components and recombined into something new. Shanti Grumbine’s “The Last Color: A Reliquary: Blue Rose” uses a New York Times page as its canvas, in which all the copy has been cut out, and its headlines acid-washed off. At the center of the page, an elaborate web of text and partial images — here a sea turtle, there a parachutist — of primarily blue background form a kaleidoscopic bloom and suggest a reading of media as shaping their content a certain way. De Guzman writes that this “calls attention to what has been censored and lost in the translation of experience into language,” in an essay accompanying the exhibition.
“How do we grapple with what’s going on, how do we make sense of it when our world seems so chaotic?” he asks.
Glendalys Medina’s “Black Alphabet Series” features letters in the style of graffiti tags, formed by an ornate array of overlapping circles, triangles, oblong rectangles and less regular shapes like quarter-ovals. In each of her three pieces, “B,” “C” and “D,” the letters take on a different character. The grids and circles in blue, pink and green in “D” might be mistaken for an urban planning map or an aerial view of crops if examined close-up, whereas in “C,” a high volume of circles in yellows ranging from brass to honeyed milk bubble up in champagne-like effervescence.
The unique bank of shapes that Medina draws from comes from the abstracted form of an older project of hers, a sculpture of a boom box. “When I think of the shapes and why I use them, it’s not just because they reference hip-hop; for me, shapes represent universal thought,” she said.
De Guzman also pushes visitors to search for less obvious connections to the theme in some pieces, such as the virtual-reality experience “mYndful,” by hannes bend (who spells his name without capital letters), which is meant to promote mindfulness through virtual feedback by reformatting physical space. Christine Wong Yap’s “Inter/Dependence” is another example, playing on the use of geometry as an organizational principle for a system of subjective thoughts.