Jennifer Guidi’s exhibition Gemini opened February 28th, 2020 at the Gagosian gallery in New York City. The exhibition was scheduled to close April 4th but was extended to May 30th due to the Coronavirus pandemic. I am thankful that I got a chance to spend time with the exhibition in person at the gallery before the city closed down.
Gemini is an ambitious large-scale exhibition, composed of paintings and a solitary architectural intervention. The show wrestles with philosophical, sensorial and spiritual notions of color theory, visual perception, and the cyclical nature of the sun and the moon. These ideas are expressed in the form of meditative art works that reference chakra energy systems and the divine feminine. Throughout the show triangles and moons are featured prominently. The show mines art history and aesthetic theory with preference to key ideas that includes: color phenomena, minimalism, earthiness (or rather sandiness), and art as an act of homage.
As soon as I walked into the exhibition space I was stunned by the clarity of Guidi’s vision – simplified colors, shapes and compositions. The work is direct and unfussy but with a profoundly tactile and worked quality on each painting’s surface. On the large wall in the first gallery room hung a series of seven diptych paintings made with triangular bases topped with small tondo paintings evenly spaced in a gradient of colors that correlate to the seven chakras, reflecting the ancient Tantric tradition relating to the distribution of life energy in the body. These paintings call to mind a simplified icon for “women,” as well as Frank Stella’s large series of geometric-shaped minimalist paintings and drawings from the 1960s and 1970s.
On an adjacent wall hangs a sculptural painting composed of two coiling snakes. Though this is the only organic-shaped painting in the show, it still feels very much in line with the feminine ethos and spirituality running through the exhibition because of their mirroring forms and the long standing symbolism between snakes and female power. On the southside of the front room, two large landscape paintings flank both sides of the main entrance. To the left is a sunrise entitled A New Beginning, reminiscent of Impression Sunrise by Claude Monet, a historical keystone painting exploring the nature of optical perception of light and color. The right side offers us a reflecting panoramic landscape of a sunset. Harmonious duality is a major theme in Guidi’s exhibition. Even its title, Gemini, suggests the complements of two parts. We see dyads throughout the show in representations of sun and moon, light and dark, innerscape and landscape, color and the voidness/absence of color.
I was impressed by the artist’s succinct use of forms and symbols. Guidi transformed the space by creating a triangular passage between the two main gallery rooms and hanging a circular two-sided painting from the top. This simple act of taking a rectangular opening and turning it into a triangular one was transformative and felt triumphant to me, as the artist commandeered the architecture of the right-angled white cube in a way that I’ve never seen – and not as an artwork, but as phenomenological priming with which to experience the rest of her work. Through this transformation Guidi created the feel of a temple and entreated the viewer to see the exhibition not just as a series of paintings but as a gestalt aesthetic and perhaps even a spiritual experience for those viewers that were open to it.
I was so excited about this subtle yet powerful architectural intervention and wanted to share the visual of it but needed a figure in the photograph to convey a sense of scale. I surprised another gallery goer when I asked his permission to include him in my photo, so I explained that I was so excited about the show and needed him for scale purposes. He responded by saying: “If you like this you’ll love the other side of the wall.” He was right. I walked into the second room and was immediately taken aback by the paintings that graced the wall. I came to understand the circular and crescent shaped paintings and the phases of the moon (with the full moon in the center, painted as the new moon on the flip side). Understated but clear, there was something very comforting about seeing this new take on something ancient.
On the opposite wall from the moon paintings, hung a collection of seven large almost black canvases with color logics also related to the seven chakras with poetic titles such as My Soul Can Hear Your Inner Voice. Reminding me of the nihilist black-on-black Ad Reinhardt paintings that challenged the idea of painting as illusionistic and the ability of photography to capture the essence of painting. This ambitious group of paintings also connect in terms of scale and spiritual interpretation to Hilma af Klint’s Big Seven that were recently on view in her seminal show at the Guggenheim Museum in 2018-2019. Upon closer inspection, these seemingly black paintings are actually ornamented with gauges in their paint mixed with sand surfaces and dotted with a singular color, calling into question how we actually perceive color.
Color theory is explicitly represented by two paintings in the exhibition. One is a triangular composition of nine individual triangle paintings based on Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s color triangle design that organizes primary, secondary and tertiary colors into a pyramid. Together with the large color circle on the opposite wall based on Ignaz Schiffermuller color wheel, science, spirituality and a sense of totality emanated from these works.
Taking photos of strangers is not something that I do often and when I told he man who happened to be in the right place at the right time that I took his photo for a sense of scale, we started talking. He asked me if I was an artist. I said yes, that indeed I was a painter, and then I asked him if he was a painter too, only to quickly correct myself and point out that he dressed much more like a sculptor, with an emphasis on form, material, and texture. He asked me for my name. I told him and gave him my card, and then asked him for his name. Just as I spoke the question, it dawned on me who he was and I blurted out “ Martin Puryear” before he could respond. I admitted that he was one of my favorite sculptors and that I had loved his last major museum show (though I couldn’t remember where I’d seen it). “Yes at the MoMA” I agreed when he clarified. We proceeded to talk more about how we both were impressed by Guidi’s show, and he recommended a couple of other shows in Chelsea. We talked about Upstate New York and his studio there. He wished me luck as an artist before we parted ways. It felt like the most perfect confluence of art and life in that gallery. So, thank you Jennifer for firstly creating such a remarkable show, and secondly for giving me a chance to meet one of my art world heroes in person while we both were admiring your work.
Katerina Lanfranco is an artist who writes for POVarts and The Art Blog. Her recent solo exhibitions include: Mystic Geometry, Talk to the Moon, and Shadow Light. You can find out more about her work on her website: www.katerinalanfranco.com and follow her on Instagram @katerinalanfranco