On ViewThe Kosciuszko Foundation
September 8 – October 6, 2021
I have followed the abstract paintings of Sandi Slone, a Professor at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, for several years, but the work of the Polish emigrant painter, Joanna Borkowska, was a first-time discovery when I saw this exhibition at the Kosciuszko Foundation. The show was curated by Lilly Wei, who has a reputation for putting artists together in a way that makes both visual and conceptual sense. Such combinations are not made for the purpose of marketability, but emerge from Wei’s ability to show how remarkably divergent paintings can function together aesthetically, bringing both bodies of work to a level that appears increasingly energized by contact with one another.
Given the quality of the artists’ paintings—all abstract and absorbed with form and color—the overview of the exhibition upon entry is qualitatively stunning. The connection between Slone and Borkowska involves significant dimensions of both similarity and difference. On a superficial level, one might view the paintings of Slone as expressionist and the paintings of Borkowska as a type of monochrome or color-field painting. Even so, this does not tell the full story—both artists resist easy narratives. However, each painter is highly aware of what they are doing: their artistic narratives are largely technical, emphasizing formal and chromatic elements that reveal an emotional depth in their work. The pleasure in seeing this exhibition is the kind of pleasure that one expects to see—and to feel—when the circumstances around a show are focused entirely on the art of abstract painting.
Borkowska’s FPYNY (2021) is a predominantly pink painting that from a slight distance appears monochromatic. However, upon closer inspection, the entire surface is overlaid with yellow rivulets that appear to descend vertically from the top of the painting to almost the bottom, where they are intercepted by an array of infinitely small colored dots, mostly blue. This painting is seen in contrast to another work by the artist with the similar title FBGNY (2021). Here the vertical rivulets are blue and slightly more pronounced than the yellow rivulets in the previous painting. In FBGNY, the dots are multicolored primaries and secondaries, emphasizing yellow. They are spread throughout the surface, primarily visible in the lower half of the painting. The combination of stately expanses and minute incidents lend Borkowska’s paintings a restrained but palpable energy.
The paintings of Sandi Slone are bolder and quite different. She employs large brushwork that carries the painting into sweeping visual territory and evokes sudden happenings within the spatial field. Her choice of colors is often a surprise. Like Matisse, for example, Slone’s chromatic combinations frequently leave the viewer wondering: “How did she think of that?” Her abstract forms are decidedly more aggressive than someone like Matisse, however, appearing both carefully plotted and dynamic. Whereas the material and cultural realm—particularly that of Eastern Europe—appears to inform the carefully reserved aspects of Borkowska’s painting, her work seems more attuned to nature and the immaterial. The contrast between these two approaches carries a dramatic edge that the curator has clearly understood in mounting this phenomenal exhibition.
Sandi Slone’s painting, Shoot the Blues Think Back Into the Ocean (2012–2016), is a crashing wave at the moment it hits the shoreline. Slone puts the viewer inside the wave. The body is surrounded on all sides. Slone’s Body Electric with Multitudes (2021) also brings the viewer’s body into the frame through a kind of formal dissolution. In some ways the drama is reversed. Nature is encapsulated within a throbbing dynamo of color. Desire is retrieved on all sides; the source of feeling is rediscovered. This is the magic I have often perceived in the work of Slone. It is not a kind of magic that spells itself out, but quite the contrary: it must remain enigmatic. There is, however, an unwavering consciousness in the paintings of Slone. Thought combines with feeling—something that is shared with Borkowska’s work. The impact of this exhibition brings these qualities into focus on multiple levels. One cannot resist spending time with these works. They are paintings that signal a curious direction in abstract painting, an approach in which the surface remains active without imposing any determinate or oversimplified resolution.