Describing Betsy Kaufman’s work and drawings, the artwork critic John Yau wrote in 2016 that “alignment and slippage (or non-alignment) are continually at play.” Yau’s aperçu touched on Kaufman’s reprise of geometric abstraction, a style that has typically appeared exhausted, however which Kaufman reanimated with gusto. Her zest for coloration and pressuring the grid, in variations each mild and infinitely insistent, characterize her new sculptural items on view in 14 Sculptures, 1 Portray at Leslie Tonkonow.
The gallery’s vibrant, studio-sized viewing room under Canal Road, appointed with two trendy chairs, painted or upholstered in white, and an Yves Klein-designed desk in iconic Worldwide Klein Blue, had the becalming hush of a non-public front room the afternoon I visited. Because it seems, the chair tucked within the nook nestles Kaufman’s “2 Triangles With Inexperienced Scales” (2020), two stacked, patterned, cushiony triangles manufactured from wool on needlepoint canvas, velvet, cotton, or artificial stuffing. One look at this engaging association — and an analogous “cushion”-chair combo by the window on a Mies van der Rohe Barcelona chair — confirms that Kaufman is aware of how one can coax humor, and pleasure, from artwork actions ostensibly too analytical for this objective. Even with lowered palettes and spare compositions that evoke constructivism, her sculptures can go from orderly to helter-skelter, making them seem to be willful renegades from an industrial meeting line.
Postminimalists akin to Eva Hesse softened abstraction whereas retaining an oppositional hardness — a typically combative rigidity between inflexible and fluid materiality. Kaufman’s sculptures can recall this dynamic however she proceeds extra measuredly. She exams the grid’s implausible pliability till it offers, inflicting “slippage” or sag. All through the present, corners bend, squares bulge out of their frames, asymmetries get thrown off by bits of plushy extra. It’s as if somebody gave a Malevich a giant squeeze, and positioned it daintily on a chair to observe it swell. Within the stackable “CRIM” (2021), during which a rectangle dangerously tilts, as if dethroned from its crimson triangular base, the dynamism comes from geometries jolted in area.
It’s not simply that Kaufman, who briefly moved from her residence studio to her house uptown in the course of the pandemic, discovered a technique to channel her confinement into pleasant busywork — although this alone can be fairly comforting. Because the present’s pointed design stresses, she’s additionally dug into artwork historical past, placing strain on its neat hierarchies. Along with the 2 “pillow” items, which summon home environments, others both stand alone on white pedestals or are scattered on low platforms. These variations replicate the best way that sculpture has progressively stepped down from, or altogether discarded, its help.
In one other revolutionary upending, the Bauhaus sidestepped the division between the superb and utilized arts. Kaufman’s allusions to those key art-historical shifts are delicate but thrilling, particularly in gentle of the Museum of Fashionable Artwork’s latest survey of Sophie Taeuber-Arp, whose Bauhaus-adjacent, fabric-bound experiments presage Kaufman’s. Each artists show geometric abstraction is malleable. The only portray within the present, “Ghosts” (1992), which options two squares, black and white, within the middle, is a living proof. It took a beat, however my eyes caught the squares’ minimal curvilinear bend, the un-square-ness pressuring the sq..
Betsy Kaufman: 14 Sculptures, 1 Portray continues at Leslie Tonkonow Artworks and Initiatives (401 Broadway, Suite 411, Tribeca, Manhattan) by way of April 15. The exhibition was organized by the gallery.