On ViewOff Paradise
A Proposal to Peter Nadin, 1979; realized 2022
January 13 – February 19, 2022
March 3 – May 8, 2022
A pair of sequential exhibitions at Off Paradise in New York, A Proposal to Peter Nadin and The Distance from a Lemon to Murder, exemplify two seemingly incongruous aspects of Peter Nadin’s winding career: his early conceptual projects and his ongoing exploration of pictorial conventions and mark-making. The first exhibition realizes, at long last, an instructions-based proposal that French conceptualist Claude Rutault conceived of in June 1979 for Nadin’s short-lived gallery, 84 West Broadway. The second presents Nadin’s recent paintings, all created during pandemic-related isolation. While strikingly distinct, the two shows nevertheless speak to Nadin’s preoccupation with the ways in which thoughts and ideas, conscious or otherwise, become manifest through art.
Between November 1978 and May 1979, Nadin presented a series of successive and cumulative projects at 84 West Broadway, each conceived as a “response to the existing conditions and/or work previously shown within the space.” The gallery opened with 30 Days Work (1978), one of several “functional constructions” Nadin produced with Christopher D’Arcangelo. Solely comprising the manual labor undertaken to convert half of Nadin’s loft into a gallery, the “construction” framed the space itself as the work of art. Site-responsive projects by Daniel Buren, Sean Scully, and Peter Fend, among others, followed, culminating with a memorial to D’Arcangelo, who had unexpectedly taken his own life that April (1979). Though Nadin’s gallery experiment had run its course by the time Rutault devised his proposal (inspired by his visit to the gallery in late 1978), the historical photographs and records showcased at Off Paradise establish its origins.
Rutault did not typically assign his signature protocols, which he started issuing in 1973, to a specific “charge-taker”—his term for those actualizing his works. His instructions stipulated that Nadin, “as the person in charge of a space,” decide the size, shape, and installation of a small number of canvases to be painted the same color as the wall(s) they hang on. Fulfilling Rutault’s criteria for a “clear and visible idea,” Nadin chose to acknowledge the forty-three years that had passed between the artwork’s conception and its actualization. Before installing a single rectangular canvas, painted a garishly bright “lemon yellow,” on a wall of the same color, he traced its perimeter in forty-two different positions around the gallery. In so doing, Nadin produced an indexical timeline of overlapping outlines that spanned the entire length of the gallery. Rutault’s procedures tended to dissolve the painting’s edge into the wall, but Nadin turned the edge into an expressive mark and a trace of a presence. In spirit, each outline represents a different enactment of Rutault’s proposal, emphasizing the indeterminacy of his project and evoking the countless individuals, or laborers, that have helped realize his work. Thick with paint and hung low on its own yellow wall, the actual canvas stood witness to the ghostly procession of its past selves.
Whereas the realization of Rutault’s Proposal revived the ethos of 84 West Broadway, the oil on panel paintings in Nadin’s The Distance from a Lemon to Murder (all 2020) recall the imagery he began producing in the 1980s after the project dissolved. Some paintings, like the expressionistic Staghorn Fern and Lemons and Mountains, resemble conventional versions of those he originally exhibited in Still Life (1983) at Richard Prince’s Spiritual America gallery—unsettling images of oversized apples and bananas looming ominously over a cottage in a picturesque landscape. Most, however, harken back to the chaotic canvases he produced around 1992, just prior to (partially and temporarily) withdrawing from the artworld. Like those works, the new paintings playfully combine styles, genres, and technique to create patchwork tableaux, often imbued with hazy narrative details.
This body of work is a product of the farm he operates with his wife, Anne Kennedy, in Upstate New York—right down to the ad hoc, yet colorful frames made by his handyman. Painted while sequestered on the farm during the first year of the Coronavirus pandemic, the series assembles into a portrait, not just of Nadin’s physical environs—his greenhouse, neighbors, and the surrounding landscape—but also of the psychological headspace of these strange, unsettling times. Nadin’s imagery, which he has referred to as “cognitive landscapes,” derives as much from his imagination as from observation. In Red Figure Walking to Red Boat (Volcano Erupting), for instance, a silhouetted hand tries in vain to hold back the smoke and ash of a volcanic eruption (certainly not a local feature). Anne and Lemons Leaving the Greenhouse converts a prosaic moment into a fevered vision: as Nadin’s wife exits the greenhouse, her body multiplies and recedes into the background, while captive lemons take the opportunity to escape through the open door.
Lemons, which Nadin grows in his greenhouse, predominate in several compositions, referencing the foreboding fruit of Nadin’s earlier still lifes and the color he selected for Rutault’s Proposal. Across the two exhibitions, lemon is both color and fruit, a product of the mind and matter—one still life is even titled Lemon or Yellow. As Nadin writes in an accompanying poem: “I eat the lemon, it moves through the body / I paint a lemon, it moves through the mind.” To cultivate the citrus in his greenhouse, Nadin grafted a scion from a Marrakesh lemon onto the rootstock of a sour orange (a horticultural process he illustrates in one painting). Here, the graft is a metaphor, not only for two exhibitions spliced together, but also for how the world implants itself in the root of the mind, bearing fruit in the form of art.