Although it takes its name from sponsors Betty and Bob Edge, the Swan Coach House Gallery’s 2020 Edge Award exhibition is, indeed, edgy. It’s hard to know whether the jurors had in mind the relationship between images and stories, but the finalists all address that question in one way or another. The winner, María Korol, provides an answer in her Nightwork exhibit that even the jurors didn’t expect.
As usual with this award, the single works by four finalists would warrant reviews of their own. Dianna Settles’ Infinity Doesn’t Interest Me continues exploring the tensions between personal, cultural and social identity as seen in her work in Of Origins and Belonging at the High Museum of Art last year.
Larkin Ford’s The Apostles is, likewise, something not quite interpretable from the “slurry of fact and fiction” from childhood and the present moment, with its mystery-laden visual vocabulary. Michael Jones’ Disinfected History is part of a larger investigation of urban environments and, curiously, Jason Sweet’s wall piece Boulevard Almost Finished also turns out to be about a changing city, incorporating cement and concrete stains into a work that mixes the look of abstract painting with sculptural materials.
Korol won the contest with work in which complex geometric paintings grow out of figurative drawings that disappear beneath successive layers until there is no hint of the original. (The process is demonstrated, rather than documented, in a striking three-screen video created collaboratively by Korol, Elena Rykova and Ensemble Mozaik. It’s one of the exhibition’s many high points.)
Viewers may be surprised to find that the largest work prominently displayed at the main-gallery entrance is an ink-on-paper drawing titled Cuarentena (Quarantine). It depicts a dejected-looking woman seated at a table with a glass and two bottles in front of her. The scene is clearly 19th-century and, in fact, recalls several art historical parallels, including Degas’ L’Absinthe.
Gallery-goers will learn that although Korol included several of her customary overlaid geometries here, most of the paintings, drawings and ceramic sculptures tell the story of impoverished Jewish women from Eastern Europe tricked into prostitution in Argentina by a 19th-century Jewish mafia. The ceramic renderings of liquor bottles on the table in the center of the gallery conjure a vividly symbolized social setting; the oil pastels-on-board and ink-on-paper works on the walls give names to the women and glimpse the world they inhabited. The streetscape of La Casa Lujosa de Av. Cordoba (The Luxurious House on Cordoba Avenue) is one example.
The ink-on-paper drawings are powerfully composed and mostly invite us into alluring but ultimately painfully realistic moments of degradation, resistance and confrontation. The surreally constructed imagery of the oil pastels on board is rendered in a combination of broadly painted, thickly layered color combined with subtle, complex line drawings. The cumulative impact is one that most photographs fail to reproduce. This show, even more than most, requires closer looking than most digital media can provide.
The gallery offers online reservations for socially distanced viewing in person, along with an informative online catalog and video tour. Nightwork is on display through November 19, but appointments and masks and social distancing are obligatory.
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