Women & Their Work, Austin
Through November 18
by Eric Zimmerman
Erin Curtis, Installation view, Perspective Threshold, 2009
See image gallery for complete caption
Puritanical Modernist mantras will find no comfort in Erin Curtis’s current work. Modernist austerity has long been linked to our cultural trajectory and Curtis’s work is part of a long tradition of combating that ideology of austerity with ornament and decoration. Layering her canvases and installation objects with foliage, color, pattern and even a pile of sandy gravel, Curtis makes it her mission to question sober Modernist ideas about architecture and painting.
Throughout Curtis’s paintings, contradictions appear between the coolness of the architecture she depicts and the warmth of her patterning. These often brightly colored passages defeat any sense of pictorial illusion within the paintings, an effect that, on the surface, seems right in line with a Modernist desire to flatten the surface of a painting and lay bare its support. But Curtis flattens space ironically; ornament irreverently lays claim to the clean surfaces of the architecture it shares space with and consumes it with colorful swirls and flourishes.
The façade of a grey house expands into the physical space of the gallery, and a set of lawn chairs entitled Kaufmann House Pool Set (2009) shares space in front of the house with some potted ferns, a table and a flat, blue-tiled triangle representing the pool. Unfortunately, these spatial interventions never quite overcome the clunky architecture of the gallery. The installation elements aren’t plentiful or developed enough to allow us to project into the imaginary space of Curtis’s paintings where modernist architecture collides with stylized nature and then meets abstract painting. This active space, free of stringent standardization, where colors and forms are free to overlap and interact in sometimes-strange ways, is the place where questions about the illusory nature of place and the unavoidable presence of nature begin to be asked.
A series of small collages rounds out this exhibition nicely. Hung on the wall inside of the house, The Memorabilia Collection (A-F) (2009) presents a sequence of skyscrapers being swallowed by massive waves and sinking beneath the surface of the ocean. These are playful and sinister images that do great things with scale, and slyly reveal much about Curtis’s attitude towards Modernist aesthetics. Sink or swim they seem to say. The cool remove of the photographic images works well in this instance, and the buildings read like artifacts. As with Curtis’s paintings, it is as though we have just stumbled through the imaginary brush to find these once mighty buildings, overgrown and sinking, their clean lines and imposing structures unable to overcome the nature of the world within which they exist.
Eric Zimmerman is an artist living and working in Austin.