Conversation, Gallery shows, Writing

Joan Banach: GeoAb with a shot of vulgarity please

When Tom Micchelli stopped by Small A Projects, he was puzzled by Joan Banach’s dark, virtually monochromatic hard-edged abstractions that looked like they belonged in MoMA, circa 1959. Until he recognized her delight in the vulgar.

“Not that her work is crass�on the contrary, it is the last word in sleekness and serenity�but something closer to vulgaris, ‘of the common people.’ Put another way, it is Pop without Warhol. It doesn�t entertain the viewer with hot colors and masscult signifiers, but plays a game of quiet seduction by hitting High Art marks while delivering the graphic intrigue of a Mike Mignola dark-on-dark cover for Hellboy or BPRD.”

While this interpretation may seem conjectural, Banach appears to encourage it�not merely by co-opting a Hollywood illusionistic technique, but also through her exhibition announcement, which features a film still from William Cameron Menzies�s ultra-camp 1936 British sci-fi flick, Things to Come. A retro-futurist paean to scientific progress, the movie�s na�ve faith in humanity�s capacity to rise above barbarism may be as obsolete as matte painting in the age of CGI, but we have felt a resurgence of it lately, a twinge that the idealism of the past may just be the sole path to the future. (In this regard, Banach�s title for her exhibition, ‘Citizen,’ not only harks back to the honorific of egalit� from the French Revolution, but also eerily prefigures the much-remarked-upon opening of Obama�s inaugural address, ‘My fellow citizens’ instead of the standard ‘My fellow Americans.’) “Banach�s peculiar mash-up of elite and populist forms can be viewed as a contemporary echo of Metaphysical Art�s cannibalization of Cubism: formalism at the service of pictorialism (and Banach�s titles, such as ‘Avatar’ and ‘Metaphysician,’ read like self-conscious distillations of Giorgio de Chirico). By injecting an aesthetic endgame like geometric abstraction with a shot of the vulgar, Banach slaps it awake to unconsidered possibilities and unintended interpretations. This can feel off-putting if you don�t give the paintings a chance, but I think it�s where Banach takes her most formidable leap of faith�to escape hermeticism at the risk of tackiness�and her stark, somber pictures can leave you feeling more guilty pleasure than you�d ever expect.”

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Joan Banach: Citizen,” Small A Projects, New York, NY. Unfortunately, the show ended in December.

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