Entering Ameringer McEnery & Yohe, those who have followed Franklin Evans’s work over the last 10 years will recognize the artist’s application of readily accessible, process-spun materials to the gallery walls and floor. Materials that might otherwise be pulled from a painter’s trashcan, including paint-scuffed masking tape, clippings from photo albums and incomplete works on paper, are positioned in bursts of action that may at first seem disorganized. The solo exhibition, “paintingassupermodel,” is Evans’s first at Ameringer and succeeds as a personal rumination on Yve Alain Bois’s 1990 bookPainting as Model. Celebrated abstract paintings by Matisse, Mondrian and Newman, which Bois discusses in his book, make appearances in the exhibition.
Evans’s typical array of materials is supplemented at Ameringer by enormous inkjet prints on paper and canvas running longitudinally along the right side of the gallery and hung in overlapping bands from floor to ceiling. Overtop the printed matter, eight discrete, densely colored paintings on canvas are hung at slightly different heights throughout the gallery at more or less eye-level. Other supports for paintings, which appear to be hung backwards, look like window frames covered in color-copied photos. Jutting from a support beam in the center of the gallery, two rectilinear Plexiglas sculptures are adorned with tape and clippings. On the left, a Mondrian painting has been recreated in strips of black tape, its dimensions stretched horizontally to fit the gallery wall.
Visually engaged by Evans’s materials, ideas in Bois’s book are spliced and resituated. Evans grapples with Bois’s primary argument, that art theory loses meaning when applied dogmatically to critical problems — that, for Modern art to be understood, it cannot be stripped of its context or, to the opposite extreme, divorced from its technical making. Evans expands these ideas by presenting his process as the unpolished model (literally a “pin-up”) and by turning the gallery into a Rubik’s cube of cultural fallout. The abstracted female figure in Matisse’s Romanian Blouse (1940) is repeated prominently on walls and in a few of the paintings. In matisseasmodel (2013), Matisse’s subject has been re-painted into square patches that intermingle with flats of saturated color. Slight differences in the many iterations of the woman’s face reinforce Evan’s incessant act of re-interpretation — a honing-in on Matisse’s painting as Bois does in his chapter “Matisse and ‘Arche-drawing.’” As exemplified by the ubiquitous model, Evans’s references are almost never linear. Digital photographs of his installation hang at one end of the gallery, and then those spaces appear in actuality in the rear of the space — a kind of mirror imaging that Evans has described as a response to Rauschenberg’s 1957 Factum works.
Evans’s approach to Bois is a salient aspect of “paintingassupermodel” — it scrutinizes a lineage that is relevant to Evans’s practice — but that focus is not all the show has to offer. In fact, the subtext of Bois’s book dissipates the more one’s eyes follow detour after detour through the skewed grids of Evans’s canvases. The implicit formalist grid in irwinorange (2014) looks as organized as an aerial city map from afar and more like a Gee’s Bend quilt upon closer inspection. The artist’s keen sense of humor can be felt in his pliant, idiosyncratic painting vocabulary and in his witty titles. The word model takes on multiple meanings; Internet printouts of male and female models, gleaned from the worlds of fashion or soft-core erotica are intermittently spaced around the gallery to form an underlayer of camp. The title of one recent painting, boo,iseeyou (2013), is a quip appropriated from the TV show RuPaul’s Drag Race.
Models are also presented in the form of statistical charts, derivatives and spreadsheets that trace (rather unromantically) Evans’s own path through the New York City art world. Having spent half his twenties working in finance, the artist continues to be a strategist and a quantifier. Giant spreadsheets and typewritten lists adorning the largest wall at Ameringer are digital relics pulled from old hard drives. Among these enlarged documents is an outdated list of NYC galleries that Evans recorded in 2002. Practical notations reveal how Evans got his bearings, how he plotted what was what and learned who was who. Across from the gallery’s entrance, to the right of the spreadsheets, a pixilated, life-sized photograph of the artist hangs at balcony height. In the image, Evans stands nonchalantly at three-quarter view with his back turned to the wall, which represents his past work. He faces yet another list — ARTnews’s “200 Top Collectors” — which becomes another obstacle and extension of the narrative. Through these clues, an artist’s career becomes another model to be examined, that of artist as aspiring super-artist.
Despite his implicit use of autobiographical content, Evans is not really a storyteller with his art as much as he is a record-keeper, a philosopher and an interpreter of what he reads. If Evans’s career continues to be plotted, and if one can imagine such a chart for this purpose, the coordinates might be made with one axis for the artist’s resourcefulness (of idea, of material, of professional adaptability) and another axis for the passage of time. Evans positions and bravely repositions his material past much like he rereads or reconsiders texts, like he has done with Painting as Model. His process persists as a slow and thoughtful evolution of fast-looking art.