Closer Encounters: Josephine Halvorson at Sikkema Jenkins & Co.
In her 2011 exhibition What Looks Back at New York gallery Sikkema Jenkins & Co., Josephine Halvorson enlivened inanimate industrial objects and surfaces, spellbinding this art-lover and writer. Now that she's got our attention, Halvorson returns with a tightly cropped and edited grouping of eleven canvases, each thrusting its subject up close and personal. Her structures are no longer content to be ignored or forgotten: in Facings, they assert themselves. — Brian Fee, Austin contributor
Perhaps I was extrapolating in my earlier article, where I sensed traces of human presence within the "faces" of her compositions. Then again, the fire-illuminated double windows and misaligned coal shelf of The Heat Inside came together just right to resemble a sort of surprised, brick-composed golem. The closest kindred to it in the new show, Heat 1, features nothing remotely figurative, though now the glowing, magma-like heat source shimmers unencumbered by barricades, producing orangey veins within its bed of charcoal tones, right in our faces. A sequence of studs and a horizontal surface act as visual frames above and below, but otherwise the pile spills out infinitely on either side. Across the gallery, its neighbors Heat 2 and Heat 3 (both same-sized, though larger than Heat 1) continue the cycle to its inevitable conclusion, glints of Red Hots-colored embers disappearing into chalky gray and chilly — truly, viscerally cold — black. A human may have filled that furnace initially, but without further stoking, like the slow crawl of time, warmth disappears into a distant memory.
Foundation is not Halvorson's first go at a multi-panel composition, though its arrangement in the exhibition (with each part separated by several inches of bare wall, and the final panel a mere sliver of its kindred) forces its subject — a slab of construction-site concrete anchored atop the barest hint of sandy soil — into the gallery space, like a Donald Judd array of concrete cubes transferred to the wall. A few trace manmade markings (an 'x' here, an arrow there) recede into the pockmarked surface, which up close flattens out from photorealism to Halvorson's deft brushstrokes. Similarly, the weathered wooden frame occupying much of Woodshed Vine really looks as though splinters could raise up and snag you, but proximity denatures them to a raindrop pattering of whitish strokes, nothing harmful in the least.
The three tall and narrow canvases in the entryway gallery converse with one another as they frame the exhibition experience as a whole: two same-sized doors entitled Form (both 'facing in', a weathered and rusted steel plane; and 'facing out', industrial yellow with four heavy hooks hanging ajar) plus the almost sinister Woodshed Window (North Facing). The former two are all door and no deeper perspective — literally, that's all there is, with no way of conceiving their thicknesses (beyond the canvases themselves), nor what lies beyond. Woodshed Window (North Facing), however, operates differently. The newest work by date in this exhibition, its brush-dusty black rectangular 'glass' reveals practically a historic palimpsest of the artist's hometown western Massachusetts environs — and more broadly, the common existences of longstanding and long-loved structures — we need only draw up closer like Halvorson does for a better look.
Josephine Halvorson was born in Brewster, MA, and lives and works out of western Massachusetts. She teaches painting in the MFA program at Yale University. Halvorson’s work will be included in the upcoming 2014 Invitational Exhibition of Visual Arts at the American Academy of Arts and Letters. She is one of the subjects of the online video documentary series, New York Close Up, produced by Art21, and is currently working on a series of prints at the LeRoy Neiman Center for Print Studies at Columbia University. This summer Halvorson will be in residence at Moly-Sabata, Sablons, France. A solo exhibition curated by Dorothée Deyries-Henry will follow at Angle Art Contemporain. Facings is her third solo exhibition at Sikkema Jenkins & Co., and continues through March 1.
Brian Fee is an art punk based currently in Austin, TX, though he can be found often in New York, Tokyo, or Berlin, depending on the current art season.