Gailan Ngan’s Moonlighting Papel opened at Monte Clark Gallery in Vancouver, BC on the first of June and closed on the thirtieth of the same month. In conjunction with Ngan’s exhibition, Monte Clark also exhibited the work of Alison Yip Hagazussa for the same duration. Both artists showed thoughtful bodies of work that felt mature and yet not stagnant. Since I was traveling, and only in Vancouver for five days, I was immensely glad to see them both, gleaning thought food aplenty. Having just recently visited New York for a two week stay in May, for the length of my visit to Canada the visual juice concentration was parallel. I was pleasantly surprised. Vancouver is a magical place, and as far as I hear about west coast destinations, I can think of at least three other cities that often top the list ahead of Vancouver. California, Seattle and Portland are great but, if you haven’t been I would encourage you to go to Vancouver; it’s friendly and pleasant and the art is very good.
I’ve never actually been to California; I’ve really only read about it in books and magazines, but I have spent time in Portland, and I think I enjoyed Vancouver more. In many ways they are similar. Monte Clark shares a building with Equinox and both galleries show art that is both interesting and viable from a commercial standpoint.
Gailan Ngan’s work is described on the Monte Clark website as an installation that confuses fabricated and found elements, activates the effervescent scents of utopia, and experiments with the formal aesthetics and sculptural applications of handcrafted ceramics. Looking at Ngan’s website it would appear that she has successful business with her more functional wares while also maintaining a dedicated practice more concerned with the sculptural bent. Ngan’s influences become clear rather immediately to the initiated and references to art history are certainly present in titles such as Sotsass Ziggurat 1, Morris’ Rainbow, and Green and Orange Miro Painting from Memory. I wondered further looking through the photos on Monte Clark’s website if perhaps Objet de Mer was meant as a phonetic reference to Lacanian theory or more likely just a literal indication as to where the driftwood came from (lol), and then also if perhaps Slits was referencing the conceptual paintings of Italian artist Lucio Fontana.
The installation makes prodigious use of the space, the scattered cavalcade of loosely figurative, rainbow clad, and muted ceramic forms successfully evincing a sort of socially choreographic atmosphere, the sparse lighting of which inflects “terrarium.” The display is joyful, and somber too, assuming statures of parade and meditation simultaneously. The bulbous, and sometimes more angular ceramic sculptures (Sottsass Ziggurat 1 in particular making direct reference to Ettore Sottsass’ teapot Lapilazzuli) are situated evenly throughout the industrial cement plain that is the gallery floor. Two forms appear to play on a bright yellow metal ladder bridge in Double Hearing, across from Green and Orange Miro Painting from Memory wherein a large orange form droops precariously on a green metal perch, quite like a canary. Some of the ceramic forms are dripped and blobbed with slip, stacked and jointed with other forms, planted with succulents, shone with colored lights, and adorned with tangled multicolored fibers to appear as if their insides were spilling out.
The work certainly indicates reference and theoretical tethers while also remaining extremely approachable and open to the casual gallery goer. The precarious situations of many of the forms suggest human risk and folly. Full of Enterprise is one of the larger rainbow forms in the corner, and would appear to don a cowboy hat while also maybe poking out a gut. Morris’ Rainbow is a squat form painted with stripes that echo Morris Louis’ famous rainbow stripe paintings. The linear export of the vessel is interrupted by a tuft of tangled fiber that protrudes awkwardly in graceful kerfuffle from a gap in the otherwise apparently closed form.
I very much enjoyed Ngan’s Moonlighting Papel installation. I felt compelled to circle laps and trace overlapping figure eights around this generous offering. I felt equally contented when I walked into the next room to discover work that was equally giving and also well paired.
While Ngan’s work is honest, joyful, and human Alison Yip Hagazussa’s is sharp-toothed and steely, while perhaps borrowing also a glamour that feels like baroque and rococo sensibilities combed by razors and propped up by grids.
Yip’s exhibition consisted of just four paintings, each of which felt both listless and complete to me. They are as follows: Recipe, The Craft, Untitled (Trellis Glow Study), Bonjour Tristesse. All of the works presented feel extremely composed, grandiose but simultaneously morose, and all four make use of the trellis as a sort of compositional armature. As I’m writing this I am reminded of the Rosalind Krauss essay Grids, which I found heavily connected to Angela Heisch’s Lozenge paintings. Bonjour Tristesse (hello melancholy), presumably titled after the novel of the same name by Francoise Sagan, is by far the largest of the four paintings at 57” x 48”. The center of the painting is dominated by an image of a shanty city in burnt tones of flesh. The style of mark making and linear structure may remind one of Cézanne. The upper border is composed of a white line of constant width with a yellow dot at each end that forces a perceived depth; the very edge around the white curving line is painted black. Along the bottom is a blue trellis pattern against bare linen. The painting is effectively sad and the trellis structure and white bar that circulates the top of the painting seem to structure or contain this ennui. The picture for me manages a brutal poetry that I would gladly live with because it feels honest.
The remaining three paintings are equally sized and outwardly present as a triptych. Untitled (trellis glow study) and Recipe certainly read as a diptych too. The former features an ochre trellis on a dark background. Ghostly flowers seem to hang around it, half dancing and half floating, they are numinous and beguiling, their personality echoes both Suellen Rocca and Agnes Pelton. The mark making is obsessive and airy relating the static reeling of late nights of manic making, mopey and magical in a way. Recipe is perhaps a whisper of hope where trellis study might be nearing something closer to a destination or culmination. The painting depicts a realistic human hand, presumably feminine, reaching through a garden trellis amongst baby’s breath, morning glories, and another flower (orange lilies?), all in full bloom. The image is beautifully awash with darkness that seems to lend physicality to the cover of night. The posturing of the hand is wonderfully coy and recalls for me the passing back and forth of notes in school. The circumstances here would seem more dire. I really enjoy the title, as it implies concoction or culinary pursuit and in this way is very reflective of Yip’s eloquence in painterly combination.
The final painting, which was my favorite even though they all strike me, is entitled The Craft and features a female figure against a white trellis on a blue background. She is rendered loosely with transparent swampy greens describing her figure loosely. She appears to be blank, like a mannequin, or one of those poseable wooden figures some artists use as reference tools. Her hair is pink and has the hardness of plastic about it. Her head is turning away as if in disgust whereas her chest seems to push forward with an implied cadence of stepping forward. The diamond voids in the trellis are outlined in black around where one would imagine her breasts might appear, although they are flattened in a manner that almost seems to balk at masculine utopian painters like Mondrian. The male gaze would seem to be denied the pleasure it seeks. On either side of the figure are flattened creepy crawlies, a spider and centipede, which may further imply the intrusive creepiness of the male gaze.
In the information provided on Monte Clark’s website concerning the trellis as it occupies Yip’s work whose last name Hagazussa is a German word meaning fence rider, the trellis is discussed as both framework and border whereby the figurative occupants become unanchored transgressors whose will and relation seem problematized, or simply offered in conjunction with the idea of parameter and the grid as it may extend beyond pictorial space, in and out of our lived experience.
It seems that Ngan’s work and Yip’s work when exhibited in tandem become perfect foils for one another. The coinciding exhibition feels astutely curated to me, and now especially as I write, I enjoy the pairing even more.