Magazine article Artforum International

Brad Spence

Magazine article Artforum International

Brad Spence

Article excerpt

SHOSHANA WAYNE GALLERY

The title of Brad Spence's fourth solo show at Shoshana Wayne Gallery, "(figs.)," simultaneously bespeaks the open-endedness and closure of the fourteen immaculately airbrushed Photorealist paintings that were on view. When abbreviated and bracketed, the word typically indicates a particular kind of "figure," a reference image or diagram tied to a text. Previously, Spence has organized bodies of work around themes straightforwardly declared in his exhibition titles--"The Afterlife," "Art Therapy," "As I Was Conceived"--so that even if individual pieces occasionally strayed into ambiguous territory, these overarching rubrics at least provided us with a serviceable road map. The absence of any such hermeneutic frame here may encourage a greater range of interpretation, but the particular grouping of images that comprised "(figs.)" was no less interconnected or in any way arbitrary. To the contrary, what Spence left unsaid this time around felt all the more demanding of an answer.

No doubt this is due to the cinematic quality that pervades all of Spence's work and that here began to suggest a storyboard, however obliquely. For example, the grouping of three pictures that opened the show--depicting a van parked on an empty street (Van) (all works 2010), a descending flight of stairs inside a home (Downstairs), and the sun (or is it the moon?) radiating through a chain-link fence (Fence)--operate like the establishing shots of a film, guiding the eye straight ahead, then down, then up, to "cover the ground" of some wan, ambiguously suburban context on a tense note of expectation. Through intentionally awkward cropping; radioactive, bleached-out lighting; and a few chillingly stark figurative choices, every banal detail has been charged with a current of dread. If in cinema tranquil normalcy tends to precede disruption, Spence has reversed the order, leaving us haunted by a climactic event that has seemingly already occurred.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Registering what appears to be the aftermath of a violent crisis, two paintings in particular clinch this feeling--Battlefield, wherein a barely decipherable body is lying beside a trench, and Courtroom, which depicts a small room with simple benches, a space as bare-bones as it is abandoned. …

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