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Peter Halley: The new unreality

Peter Halley, Cell with Conduit, 1994, acrylic on cast fiberglass attached to steel armature, 69 x 96 x 12 inches.

Contributed by Sharon Butler / In his�first solo show at Greene Naftali, Peter Halley contends with�the new�American reality�of an increasingly�shameless and authoritarian state under�which, despite the best efforts of an�overstretched�free press and an embattled political opposition, the difference between fact and fiction has become�increasingly obscured.�Halley has outfitted the�cavernous�gallery�with�metallic�floor-to-ceiling digital prints, tweaked�lighting, a handful of his signature paintings, and intermittent sound emissions to create a disturbing�sense of unease�and�”topsy-turvy disorientation.� In the back room, as a mordant coda, Halley has included one of�Robert Morris�s 1978 sculptures made of classical architectural fragments and a distorting fun house mirror.

Responding�to the bunker-like space, Halley begins the show with a greyscale installation in the courtyard. He mounts one of his�earlier paintings, a 1994 piece�called�Cell with Conduit,�in the entryway, and on the adjoining wall installs�a�mural-size metallic digital print that echoes the wall�s cinderblock pattern. From the beginning, reality appears fluid:�the painting seems to become�part of the infrastructure while�the cinderblock pattern appears to be�part of the painting.

Looking into the gallery from the courtyard, the framing of the windows echoes the geometry of Halley�s paintings.
Cinderblock courtyard wall covered in metalic digital print of cinderblocks.

Inside the first gallery, Halley has created a room-sized installation using another metallic digital print and custom lighting. He begins to turn on the color, in the form of yellow translucent film applied to�the windows and perception-altering yellow light. According to the press materials, Halley used the explosion motif in the 1990s, but this was the first time I had seen it, and the undulating, non-geometric nature of the image�signaled that Halley was engaging with new ideas.

Peter Halley, Five Yellow Explosions, 2017, mural-sized digital prints on metallic ground, colored window film, light gels.�Dimensions variable.
Peter Halley, Five Yellow Explosions, 2017, mural-sized digital prints on metallic ground, colored window film, light gels.�Dimensions variable.

Walking into the main gallery, the viewer is confronted with a�wall covered in the metallic cinderblock, on which two�new�greyscale paintings hang.�In this room, the yellow introduced as light in�the first gallery is�the actual color of the surfaces, covering the three�walls and all the columns in the room. The light is a bright white, and music plays intermittently on the sound system. Over the course of�the�installation, the work changes from from depressive cinderblock greyscale to full-on, high-key color. I was reminded for a moment of the point�in The Wizard of Oz when the black-and-white film becomes�color, but in this case something more sinister than Munchkin Land emerges.

Peter Halley, installation view. This is the first wall visitors see as they walk into the main gallery.
Looking to the right, the walls are painted a garish, eye-popping yellow. Peter Halley, Installation view, Greene Naftali, New York, 2017.

In the main gallery space, nine new�paintings hang on the vivid yellow walls�and�feature the�signature cells, prison, and conduit motifs that Halley has painstakingly developed over the last 40�years.�But in this new setting, the�rigidity and claustrophobia�of previous exhibitions recedes. Mounted on the yellow wall, the paintings loom as�free-floating entities, similar in form but untethered from one another. Beyond the oft-noted political polarization of the country, they impart a profound loss of connection and community.

Peter Halley, Installation view, Greene Naftali, New York, 2017.
Peter Halley, Installation view, Greene Naftali, New York, 2017
Looking into the dark back room.

After taking in�the painting installation, I entered�the back room, a��darkened grotto�lit theatrically�with a few warm spotlights. Robert Morris�s sculpture, which for many viewers must be a distant memory, stands quietly, elegantly encapsulating�the disorientation that has occurred�in the last nine months, since the Trump administration�took control of the government.

Robert Morris, Untitled, 1978, mirror, plastic and copper, 108 x 216 x 156 inches.

In past exhibitions, Halley�has employed�a clearly articulated abstract�visual language�to express ideas about how technology, institutional control, and global interaction�affect the individual.�In this expansive and insightful new exhibition, he�seems to be suggesting that the world is in flux, and that facts and intellectual understandings are�not as firm�as he had previously thought. Truth, no longer a given, drifts.

Peter Halley: Ground Floor,� Greene Naftali, Chelsea, New York, NY. Through October�21st, 2017.

Related posts:
Peter Halley: Hyperreal
Green light: Peter Halley in Portland
Peter Halley�s grim vision

 

One Comment

  1. Designing for hospitals years ago, I was told that yellow is the one color that could not be used, because it makes cancer patients feel uncomfortable, even nauseous (maybe those in chemo?).

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