False Flat (detail)
Taking over the entire Linfield
gallery Jenene Nagy's False Flat
is one of the more ambitious solo shows
in recent Portland history, with the added promise of a creating a lot more
headroom for work her to expand. Until recently I had questioned whether Nagy
(PORT's business manager) was going in a fruitful direction but after the controversial
Hook Up group show
it was apparent she had made a major breakthrough by
simplifying and working larger.
False Flat is the first solo outing to expand on that development earlier this
year and at over 5 times the size of that large sampler it is quite an eyeful. Kudo's
to Linfield College and curator Cris Moss for championing new and exciting work.
In the last 10 months they've really stepped up.
Nagy's construction consists of flat planes of electric pink paint. This coating
of color courses over the original gallery walls and drywall structures. The
overall effect is of color traversing the space like a railroad with the viewer's
eyes as the train; sometimes the rails are running on flat white parking lots
(gallery walls) and at others it is crossing a series of man-made trellises.
This river of pink consistently flows over flat or faceted walls mimicking
interior decor paintjobs and the time tested paint on panel option. It's like
Tomma Abts work on growth hormones.
Nagy's installation is partly an analog for human industriousness, which is
complicated by the often jagged ridgelines that are occasionally punctuated
by flat planes resembling billboards or a drive in theater. It also calls to
mind the southwestern landscapes of the Roadrunner
and the heart stopping crags of the Columbia
(carved by biblically proportioned glacial floods). This information
suggests that the distance between cartoons and the great outdoors as a mediated
and civilized or "dry walled" experience isn't as wide as most might
expect. In fact the old route 66 paradigm of billboards, the land and gas stations
is so common we don't see it anymore.
Hadid's Car Park © Helene Binet
It also reminds me a bit of Zaha
Hadid's Car Park and Terminus Hoenheim-Nord
in France because it extends
and blends the vernaculars of different types of space both interior and exterior
like an unfurled carpet. The difference here is that Nagy's work is free of
function, borrows more from geography (and earthquakes) and can operate purely as an experience.
This natural/manmade reading is further enhanced by shiny chrome triangles
that glint at the viewer as they walk by. Are they headlights, bumpers, reflective
warnings or the waters of the Columbia River or the Pacific Ocean glinting on
the horizon? It isn't a separation of man and nature it is an artificial leveling
of the two, not unlike an urban rock climbing wall.
False Flat acts as if Nagy has blended the hotrod, roadside attraction billboards
and scenic views into a suburban experience that doesn't feel suburban. Instead
it feels like the disorientation one gets from architecture by Rem Koolhaas,
Zaha Hadid, Daniel Libeskind and Thom
Mayne whose Caltrans building in LA is an architectural billboard
it is most obvious precedents are the dislocation produced by Robert
and to a lesser extent the woozy body awareness one gets
from Richard Serra's torqued steel.
Also, Nagy's open poetic rawness of the materials is indebted to Richard Serra
and Richard Tuttle but with a distinct twist, the work resembles stage design
and movie backlots, creating a cinematic experience for the viewer. True, Nagy's
work is still evolving and hasn't reached the kind of elemental poetry found
in work by Tuttle, Serra, Jessica Stockholder or even Katarina Grosse but she's awfully
smart so I'm not going to cut her any slack here. This is solid, interesting
work that with a just little more spatial-conceptually woodshedding could be
international star making material.
Still, I like False Flat a lot more than the put on fetished rawness of Urs
Fischer who seems to be milking September 11th and ripping off Gordon Matta
Clark with his drywall installations (I prefer Fischer's other work). Ditto
The difference between current art stars is that Nagy seems to have more innate
staging aspects than Katarina
(who uses the space given her more pragmatically to airbrush
lush neon paint) and seems to be more balanced between creation and destruction
who seems to evoke destruction and loss. Like her friend Stephanie
Robison's work there is a pop element here but Nagy's work is sportier, more
Nike, Adidas and skate park like too.
Maybe Nagy could channel some of the modular pragmatic/spatial interventions
found in the work of Renata
Still Nagy's on a different path, one that incorporates design, urban sprawl
and the wilderness into a kind of built environment/amusement park/movie set/apocalypse
redevelopment. It is also exciting that False Flat seems to both support and
reject a Greenbergian reading of "flatness" as well
wondered how the Greenberg collection relates to the local scene?
Nagy's development here makes sense as Portland is rapidly redefining itself
as a center of design, urban planning, green space, rapid real-estate development
and of course art and like a lot of local artists like Joe
, Jesse Hayward, Brenden Clenaghen, Stephanie Robison, Laura Fritz,
, Ellen George, Tom Cramer, Matthew Picton, Joe Macca and Chandra
etc. Nagy is also channeling an interesting zeitgeist where design
+ materials and spatial presence = very different and interesting art that asks
questions about how we live as a function of design and materials.
Also, besides Bocci, Healy, Ehlis and Picton none of these artists has made
a single piece or body of work of comparable size to False Flat and it further
ups the ante for a peer group that has become increasingly active and popular
beyond the Northwest. Nagy is some of the freshest new blood on the west coast
and would have outshown a lot of the work at the Hammer's Eden's Edge show
The difference is the Northwest's craggy spatial character which has seeped
into the process, kinda like Clyfford Still meets Katarina Grosse via Gordon
Matta Clark if he hadnt had issues with his dad.
True, size doesn't automatically equal quality but False Flat is a convincing
solo by Jenene Nagy due both to its disorienting and reorienting visceral experience and its sucessful scale. The gestalt here complicates the manmade and natural environments in a way that puts the
viewer in their own subjective movie set.
False Flat makes a statement by filling big shoes, hitting important and difficult
issues like the artifice of entertainment, wilderness, the built environment,
the role of painting in installation art as well as creating a cinematic set
for viewers to engage. Something about False Flat really rings true, so keep
an eye on this one.