Since the March opening of its warehouse space in the no-mans-land between North Williamsburg and Greenpoint, no artist has filled Pierogi
’s stunning old industrial boiler, The Boiler
, so successfully as Yoon Lee
with her current series of swirling paintings. In the previous show, Jonathan Schipper
’s massive, moving sculptures seemed oddly cramped, squeezed by the soaring verticality of the space, its imposing disused boiler and relatively limited floor space. In Lee’s exhibition, Borrowed Time
(through November 1), the monumental, sparsely distributed vertical paintings activate the space in all its epic height. Not that the romantic industrial architecture overwhelms the art–it’s just nice to see the building really work–Lee’s paintings have a spectacular and dynamic immediacy that’s irrepressible.
Lee’s concentric acrylic swirls manifest the immaterial trajectories of power, money and information that shape our lives. Her subject is both elusive and brutally tangible: it’s the wireless worldwide network that alternately connects and traps us. Appropriately, the scale and gripping sense of movement in her acrylic compositions have a double-edged capacity to be both majestically beautiful and overwhelmingly jarring. The stretched, thin planes and intricately layered colors in her work evoke Jackson Pollock
’s drip paintings, but up close there’s a pixilated, embossed quality to each streak of acrylic on PVC that’s more in keeping with Pop artist Roy Lichtenstein
. Lee manages to impart an infinite sense of craft and control despite each work’s brash, vast scope.
There’s also a hint of the Italian Futurists
’ fetishism of all things modern and disorienting to the work, an uneasy sense that the spectacular forces these stormy compositions represent have an arresting, sublime beauty we should give into. Lee achieves this effect both in the dynamic layering and stretching of spinning paint swathes and the imposing grandeur of the pieces–the largest here, the mesmerizing “Ascension”
(2009), is 16 feet tall. In works like “Avalanche”
(2009), the super-imposed ellipses are less overwhelming than the title suggests, rendered in a palette of similar colors and comfortably distributed ovals of different diameters. The trademark dynamism is still present, but it has an organic, fluid, musical quality much subtler than the harsh machine aesthetic that seems to lurk underneath many of Lee’s other paintings.
Behind these abstract swirls, Lee often incorporates traces of generic architecture based on her own photographs and sketches. These dilapidated and depressing settings are less visible in the works featured in Borrowed Time
, though “Expansion”
(2008) does seem to feature some desolate exurban backdrop. This incorporation of unreadable blueprints immediately calls to mind Julie Mehretu
, whose style is more explicitly controlled and measured. Still, her slightly smaller but no less monumental drawings feature thick stripes and swirls over airport and sports stadium outlines, creating similarly busy and beautiful compositions.
Lee seems to be de-emphasizing the architectural settings in her work, though, to emphasize the barely navigable forces and systems of our information society. Just six months ago, the piece she presented in the inaugural exhibition at The Boiler was located in a very specific place. “JFK”
(2007-8) featured unmistakable airport architecture as its backdrop, and the swirling colors seemed somehow bound to that location, the patters of transcontinental flight, international shipping and global finance. In other words, the forces that Lee was representing in that piece were still tied to very literal, physical movements.
Her latest works often layer so many stripes and splashes of color across their compositions that discerning one dominant direction, strand or tone–not to mention their spatial proportions–becomes a futile exercise. The resulting paintings are works of vertiginous force and exquisite craft. Two tall, narrow pieces in Borrowed Time
stand out in particular, “Ascension” and “Descension”
(2008-09). Though Lee still maintains a sense of depth and perspective in these pieces, she does away with circular motifs and her whirlpools of paint, instead building up stripes and strands of paint into one overwhelming, forceful movement–straight up in one case, straight down in the other. These pieces push Lee’s impressive balance of abstracted violence and formal spectacle further towards some elusive tipping point where one worries (and, perversely, hopes) that the sheer volume and force of her paints will overwhelm and confound our ability to understand them. She’s looking for the moment when our system will bulk under its own immaterial weight, and in these works she seems to be getting scarily close.