MARGRIT LEWCZUK Me, We
On ViewThe Gallery @ 1GAP
Richard Meier On Prospect Park
January 17 – April 23, 2015
Painter Margrit Lewczuk’s career was marred in 1999 by a fire that destroyed the contents of her Chelsea studio. 16 years later, she has assembled a new oeuvre of vibrant paintings, drawings, and cut-outs while living and working in her Brooklyn home with her husband, fellow impassioned artist and professor Bill Jensen. The artist’s influences are not easily identifiable; in her work one might sense the organic symmetry of Ukrainian or Mexican folk art, the vibrating illusions of ’60s Op art or Islamic textiles, the expressively abstracted mathematics of Agnes Martin, the macro focus and whimsy of Hilma af Klint, or the playfully curved shapes and lively palettes of Henri Matisse or Yayoi Kusama. In devotion to the theme of her own transformation and renewal after disaster, her new work features symbols of rebirth such as eggs, angels, crosses, and the chrysalis. With these hopeful themes, she doesn’t mourn the past; she celebrates the potential of the present and future, affirming the power of long change, in gestation, incubation, and meditation.
The paintings on view in Me, We are combinations of neon, jewel-tone, and neutral acrylics arranged in organic, symmetrical patterns charted over fluid grids, flat shapes with visible brushstrokes. Lewczuk applies paint in thick layers and rarely uses more than five or six colors. “Untitled” (2009), for example, is a giant red egg with luminous sky blue margins penetrated by four smaller white and pink eggs from the corners of the frame, forming the double image of a cross within the egg. Many of the other canvases also feature rounded shapes both at the center and blooming inward from the corners, establishing an amusing figure-ground shift of focus. A process of extended looking reveals the impact of this optical dance.
“Metamorphosis” (2011), a large abstract painting hung across from a conference table and chairs in the exhibition, centers on a golden yellow hourglass shape pinched between a pair of pea-green ovals, all surrounded by radiating concentric circles and shapes. The twin ovals appear to be on the edge of merging or at the end of separation, vibrating and shifting as if through the stages of cellular mitosis. Perhaps as a reference to Gregor Samsa’s tragic and terrifying fate in Franz Kafka’s tale, the green ovals of the painting become menacing, insect-like eyes, a reminder of the more grievous, alienating, and unrelenting aspects of change.
The title of Lewczuk’s show, Me, We, refers to a short poem delivered by boxer Muhammed Ali at a Harvard graduation address in 1975. Much like the exhibition, the words were meant as a simple statement of togetherness, a quick gesture toward intimacy. Fitting, as the venue for the show, the ground floor of a lavish apartment building designed by Richard Meier on Prospect Park, offers more in the way of close observations that come from living with a work of art than the average white box gallery. The space features a lobby and three small gallery lounges filled with TVs, couches, and cafe tables, all connected by a long narrow hallway. As the building is residential, the show can only be visited by appointment, which gives it an exclusivity that may seem contrary to its all-embracing title. But the cozy setting allows visitors to hide away with Lewczuk’s paintings, offering a space to sit and spend time, to look, to take a lunch break or a nap, and then look again, readjusted.
The two unisex bathrooms deliver perhaps the most intimate experience with Lewczuk’s work. In each, a mid-sized canvas painted with glow-in-the-dark acrylics creates a figure-ground reversal as the light is flipped on and off. In one painting, black squares form a wobbly grid over a neon orange and greenish-white background—until the overhead light is turned off to reveal the silhouette of a dancing figure glowing in luminous green. “Angel” (2014), a larger version of this painting, which hangs in the second gallery space, also boasts the trickery of this phosphorescent acrylic. Unfortunately, due to building policies, the light in the lobby and connected galleries must stay on continuously. Most of the work is visible from the sidewalk outside the building; it’s a shame the passerby doesn’t get to see the show glow with new imagery after sunset. Why worry though? Relaxing with Lewczuk’s work in this lounge setting enables the soothing details of her work to emerge and wash your cares away.