John Eisler at Diaz Contemporary

In a famous essay on Sol LeWitt, rock star critic Rosalind Krauss argues that Lewitt’s work is often misunderstood as embodiments of rational thought. According to Krauss, LeWitt’s desire to carry out and exhaust the overwhelming abundance of his dryer-than-ice variations is an exceedingly bent ambition. Although there is a distinct sense of logic to drawing all of the possible permutations that a cube will allot, the urge to do so is relatively mental. I couldn’t help thinking of that old Krauss paper as I wandered through John Eisler’s recent exhibition We Want Your Complex at Diaz Contemporary. But if a bent logic informs LeWitt’s formalism, then Eisler’s is truly perverse. Every aesthetic decision that Eisler makes is absurd, exaggerated and displayed. These works not only bear the scars of his wonky array of semi-masochistic aesthetic procedures, they are the scars: the fossilized remains of his tortured materials.

Before I go on, we should all take a moment to feel sorry for Mr. Diaz’s poor gallery space: his lovely white cube has been rammed and crammed with work. The floor is covered, wall-to-wall, in silver, triangular shards of reflective mylar, like a giant disco-ball disassembled and lay flat. The walls are filled with large-scale brightly hued canvases, and even the windowsills have works (stained plexi-glass squares) resting on their ledges.

The paintings in this exhibition are stained on both sides, creating an effect that bears as much similarity to Grateful Dead t-shirts as to Colour Field painting. Created in section by folding and stretching segments to a tabletop, their surfaces are littered with staple-inflicted puncture wounds that create crisscrossing lines across the picture plane. Triangular forms are painted on the surface in high-intensity, straight-out-of-the-tube colours, like shards of light reflecting from a dangling-prism style chandelier (or from the gallery floor). Frayed edges of his pictures raw canvas are folded back over the side of the stretcher frame with threads dangling like cobwebs in a horror show.

The overall effect of the installation is remarkably disorientating as Eisler’s maxi-minimal aesthetic overwhelms our retinal registry with vast quantities of sparse forms in assaulting, psychedelic colours. We Want Your Complex is a twisted reworking of Modernist values and concepts. These formalist objects are pushed to their decorative limits, transforming the lofty goals of “High” Modernism into an amusement park fun house. Somewhere the ghosts of Adolph Loos, Alfred Barr and Clement Greenberg are really not amused.

Michel Daigneault at AKAU

These are some lewd “abstract” paintings. Like the love-child of an art historical key party that was unexpectedly crashed by the design team for Ocean Pacific, these large-scale paintings take the slackened contours of the traditional high/low culture divide as the conceptual gesso upon which they are impressively constructed. Rather than fighting against the varied pretensions of high culture, as in previous generations from Pop to Neo-Geo, this erosion seems to be, in Daigneault’s paintings, merely a basic assumption. It is the given principle that allows for the full exfoliation of his painterly musings. The vast range of meandering references and loosened signifying slippages that Daigneault employs conjures a fantastic realm that gives license to the contaminated substance of our collective subconscious.
The three acrylic canvas’ contained within the exhibition The Other Side of Abstraction are all the same size which lends these whimsical fields a good, old-fashioned sense of serial stability. They universally make use of faded, pastel-ish hues that are punctuated with sporadic moments of blacks, whites and the occasional high intensity hue. “Quand la couleur siginifie” is perhaps the most compelling of the four paintings on display. A sea of watery coloured, tattoo-parlor, flame-balls waves across the better part of the background. Several flame-ball-coloured flame-balls fall through the centre of the canvas into a fleshy heap of misty spray-painted puddles. Muddy, grey-brown-jelly-bean-rocks recede back diagonally from the centre, covering a flat pink, mauve and baby blue schematized shoreline/hillside. The trace of pencil guidelines recurringly surrounds some of the sparsely laid out forms and there is an organic sensibility to all of his geometric shapes. The best moment of the piece, however, is the Tanguy-like blob in the bottom-left-hand- third. The faint shadow that it casts brought a smile to the face of this observer as did numerous other instances of playful, cleverness that are scattered throughout this striking exhibition.
If high culture truly no longer exists, as critics such as Donald Kuspit and Benjamin Buchloh have suggested, then all that remains is culture and everything that goes on within its malleable parameters is fair game and rife with potential semiotic, social/personal possibility. Daigneault’s paintings seize upon the expansive latitude that our current moment seemingly affords. These works illuminate eccentric pathways through the limitless scrap heap of vacated signifiers that infiltrates our collective memory. They offer a persuasive glimpse into an idiosyncratic, parallel universe wherein Helen Frankenthaler designed album covers for YES, Yves Tanguy was the greatest jean-jacket painter of his generation and Jules Olitski is still taken seriously.