Escapism at Meredith Rosen Gallery

Written by Emma Jones

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The Meredith Rosen Gallery sits at the bottom of a winding spiral of a staircase in an ornate building between Fifth and Madison on Manhattan’s Upper East Side. This is the neighborhood of glittering department stores and uniformed private schools. The gallery itself is situated among figures of prestige; near the Rudolf Steiner School, New York’s high-end pizza chain Serafina’s, and lofty addresses such as the Consulate General of Greece. The M79 select-bus service puffs along the one-way streets on winter’s days, while Upper East Siders clad in Lululemon leggings and Vineyard Vines polos push strollers or take important-seeming phone calls on Bluetooth headphones. But Meredith Rosen’s December-January show, ‘Escapism’ is not concerned with any the class or status its neighborhood represents.

The gallery itself is situated among figures of prestige; near the Rudolf Steiner School, New York’s high-end pizza chain Serafina’s, and lofty addresses such as the Consulate General of Greece.

The show’s theme and title is “Escapism,” and Rosen opens the gallery with a quotation from Italian novelist Italo Corvino: “This is what I mean when I say I would like to swim against the stream of time: I would like to erase the consequences of certain events and restore an initial condition. But every moment of my life brings with it an accumulation of new facts, and each of these new facts bring with it consequences; so the more I seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out, the further I move away from it.”

If there were ever a quote that captures the essence of 2020, that would be it. The “accumulation of new facts,” and their subsequent consequences, seems tiresome and constant these days. A need for escapism is constantly present in the daily life of the denizens of 2020. Masked up at my minimum wage job or in my own home unable to unglue my eyes from the COVID-19 positivity rate in my zip code, my mind wants to take me anywhere else.

If there were ever a quote that captures the essence of 2020, that would be it. The “accumulation of new facts,” and their subsequent consequences, seems tiresome and constant these days. A need for escapism is constantly present in the daily life of the denizens of 2020.

The gallery show features art from a multitude of mediums – The Feeling of Not Knowing, a video installation that brings to mind the Plastic Beach album cover by Theo Tiantafyllidis, or one of my personal favorites, Boy 3 a digitally glitched out image of a classically painted youthful male form by Kon Trubkovich.

The pieces explore sexuality, nature, and gestural mark-making in a variety of ways. Donald Baechler’s gouache painting Half Man, Half Spider-man uses the image of a superhero and an ordinary figure meshed together in a comic-book’s bright, bold style, but close by that same painting Alexis Rockman’s Mola Mola shows an enormous sunfish’s muted blue scales on a black background

The pieces explore sexuality, nature, and gestural mark-making in a variety of ways.

The mixture of colors and forms made for an entertaining combination of visuals at the show. Frank Benson’s sculpture piece is unique in the gallery due to its abstraction. Some pieces more directly reference the theme of escapism, but Benson’s ceramic sculpture Extrusion VI is a knot of dark form that bisects the gallery space on a seamless MDF pedestal.

Benson prefaced his answers to my questions with “in general, I don’t really approve of escapism.” However, the piece does indeed serve as escapism for him, “I made the work during a residency at Artpace in San Antonio, TX. At the time, the residency served as an escape from New York and it gave me the opportunity to create a small body of work using a very immediate and viscerally satisfying process after working on a long tedious digital sculpting project — so it was also an escape from my studio practice,” Benson explained. 

“I made the work during a residency at Artpace in San Antonio, TX. At the time, the residency served as an escape from New York and it gave me the opportunity to create a small body of work using a very immediate and viscerally satisfying process after working on a long tedious digital sculpting project — so it was also an escape from my studio practice,” Benson explained. 

Of the process for his piece, Benson described the studio space as a bit like “a big play-doh fun factory where you put clay in a cylinder and then push the clay through different dies that give the clay various profiles when it comes out the other side.” The title of Extrusion VI refers to the process of extruding in which objects are created along a cross-sectional profile.

“Once the wet clay was extruded, I carefully laid it on a slab and arranged it into a visually appealing shape. In this case, I extruded the square tube using a clay that fires to a gunmetal matte black and let it harden,” Benson said. Benson then extruded a ribbon of brown clay over the gunmetal matte black to create the contrast that appears in Extrusion VI.

During the pandemic, museums, galleries, and studios have gradually opened up and began to allow visitors again. Before visiting the gallery I, of course, went on a neurotic Google rabbit hole about whether it was okay to go to an art gallery, and was pleasantly surprised that it is in fact on the safer end of things.

During the pandemic, museums, galleries, and studios have gradually opened up and began to allow visitors again.

Benson confirmed my thoughts: “Openings are a little weird these days, but I feel like going to see art in galleries is one of the safest activities that you can do indoors during the pandemic. There are usually very few people in any given gallery space at any one time, so you can easily keep your distance from other people and it’s easy to keep your mask on, since you aren’t there to eat.”

With that in mind, gallery visitors should keep masks on at all time, and it remains to be seen whether art venues will remain open into the coming months. In my own artistic practice, COVID-19 has made me realize how malleable the perception of reality is and how quickly things can change. As deep into a depression as I have gone, there is something valuable for artists of all kinds to have to reckon with the perception of the world around them.

With that in mind, gallery visitors should keep masks on at all time, and it remains to be seen whether art venues will remain open into the coming months. In my own artistic practice, COVID-19 has made me realize how malleable the perception of reality is and how quickly things can change.

Benson said that “I think artists were more prepared for the isolation than a lot of other professions. Maybe we should all try escaping to our own private desert islands… it would probably be cheaper than staying here.” If you do plan on escaping to your own private desert island, you can catch Escapism before you leave on view at 11 E 80th St until January 30th, 2021.

“I think artists were more prepared for the isolation than a lot of other professions. Maybe we should all try escaping to our own private desert islands… it would probably be cheaper than staying here.”