Getting What You Pay For: RISD MFAs at Mixed Greens

by Will Brand on July 1, 2011 Reviews

Collin Hatton's "Steer" (2011)

Date: THURSDAY, JUNE 16TH 2011 – FRIDAY, JULY 8TH 2011
Venue: Mixed Greens531 West 26th Street
AFC’s Rating: 6.5/10 (Will Brand)

In New York, everybody delivers: bodegas, McDonalds, and, of course, RISD, with MFAs still warm from their thesis show. Mixed Greens has brought us some highlights from Providence, and while the resulting show is essentially themeless, it nonetheless unearths some real talent.

Nell Painter’s work is the biggest surprise in the show, if judged against the low expectations an ageist art world might have for a 60-year-old MFA student (Painter is also a well-known historian). Building up layers of acrylic along a rough grid, Painter’s two canvases evoke the military’s digital camouflage, occasionally allowing the background to show through in passages that immediately conjure Photoshop masks. They’re visually pleasing effects, and work well with Painter’s figuration—the result looks, at times, not unlike Tom Thayer and Dave Miko’s collaboration at the Kitchen this winter. That said, given the similarity of the works on display and their striking departure from most of the work on Painter’s website, it would be premature to draw too many conclusions.

Corydon Cowansage, whose two large canvases hang immediately opposite, seems more dependable. Borrowing heavily from the conventions of photography, her recent work has focused on drawing geometric abstraction out of everyday scenes, typically fences and exteriors of buildings, all delivered with an Alex Katz-like flatness and palette. Everything’s recognizably mundane in Fence #5, a work that embraces the repetition of the suburban landscape with open arms, and yet the abstraction escapes to stand alone, and occasionally plays tricks with your eyes: I was certain, from a distance, that one stripe of white across the middle of the piece was wood tacked to the canvas. It’s an obvious juxtaposition — the abstract and the real—but Cowansage executes it well.

Meanwhile, Collin Hatton’s understated geometric compositions, a room away, are the only works in the show with a sustained concern for texture. Hatton easily moves from glossy painterly gestures to more aloof, stone-like surfaces, often opposing the two to good effect. In a smaller work, though, it seems the style doesn’t compress: all the individual elements are present, but the result is unmoving. Hatton has clear ability, but is a step away: his work draws you in, but to no particular end.

The other work in the show generally falls into two camps: too smart for its own good (as with the book- audiotape-photograph-collection-memory-painting-thing of Anna Plesset) or too big for its own good (Field Kallop’s enormous bleached-fabric piece). That a show of recent graduates should be hit-and- miss, though, comes as no surprise; what’s exciting is how many hits this class might produce.

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