“I wanted to show this series without curatorial patina…I believe works begin to build their own mythology as they continue to be exhibited.”–Vincent Como

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot, (image courtesy of Minus Space)

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot, (image courtesy of Minus Space)

The day I went to visit Vincent Como’s Paradise Lost exhibition at Minus Space, I got caught in the slick grip of a ferocious downpour.  By the time I arrived at the gallery, I had become a micro version of a spout, dripping water everywhere. Given my soggy condition, almost any other gallerist would have greeted me with a frown and a discerning eye. However, Rossana Martinez (the Co-Founder and Co-Director of Minus Space) extended a warm welcome by inviting me to dry off in the gallery by candlelight.  At first, this comment seemed curiously old fashioned, but it swiftly began to take shape once I entered into a quiet sanctuary of floating light and sweeping shadows. My eyes slid across eight, small black paintings evenly spaced out against white gallery walls. Like Byzantine icon paintings, a single shelf of candles illuminated glossy black surfaces on each work. As I drew closer, the picture planes glimmered like mica, reflecting cinnamon flames from the tapers, silvery silhouettes of the viewer, and an inky void that seemed to extend beyond the threshold of consciousness.  As I considered hidden realities and dark mythologies buried within these works, my thoughts crystallized around the fact that the name of this series was entitled Paradise Lost.

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot (Image courtesy of Minus Space)

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot (Image courtesy of Minus Space)

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot, (image courtesy of Minus Space)

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot, (image courtesy of Minus Space)

The namesake of Como’s new body of work borrows from John Milton’s epic poem Paradise Lost (1667), which chronicles the Biblical story of the fall of humankind, the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan, and their subsequent expulsion from the Garden of Eden. The series consists of fifteen monochrome paintings (of which eight are currently on exhibition) executed in methods employed by Old Masters. Each work boasts successive layers of warm and cool black pigment glazes that are then heavily varnished to create a rich visual pictorial plane. Installed directly below each picture is a shelf that inhabits varying numbers of lit black tapers.  As the flames burn, sooty vapors and smoky embers slowly rise and lap at the luscious patina of the reflective canvases. Simultaneously, as the candles shed heat, they generate overgrown mountains of wax that drizzle down into jagged canopies of stalactites.  Positioned underneath each installation are small white plinths that serve as inverted drawbridges, collecting a murky moat of afterburn from above.

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot, Minus Space

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot, Minus Space

Everything about this installation strangulates the vein of tradition. These paintings are meant to be covered with wax and soot.  They emit an irregular soundtrack comprised of pops, snaps and sizzles. Gaps between wax spindles and their splattered plinths break lines and extend ideas like enjambment in a poetic verse.  As the works continue to smolder and burn, they further divorce themselves from modernism, regenerate, and then reposition themselves onto a new a rung in the canon of art history. That these objects are in a constant state of flux, they function as catalysts.  Como offers “The works are not only meant to challenge the viewer’s sense of history, memory, evolution, and transcendence, but also their grasp of the precious.

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot, Minus Space

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot, Minus Space

The Paradise Lost series is constructed around an assembly of antipodal ideas.  By pairing past and present, or the nature of time as lasting versus fleeting, the installation embraces the challenge of maintaining perpetual balance. Milton’s poem echoes this dynamic with its two narrative arcs: one about Lucifer and the other about Adam and Eve. Formally, the totality of the works act like a pendulum, as they constantly oscillate between darkness and light, and positive and negative space. This cyclical characteristic lends itself to the gallery space as well.  Matthew Deleget, the other Co-Founder and Co-Director of Minus Space offers “It’s been a very ritualistic and a very physical exhibition.”  Like a friar, Matthew tends regularly to the works like sacred objects: in the morning he lights the candles, throughout the day he monitors the works (to make sure they don’t catch fire and replaces candles if need be), and in the evening he extinguishes the flames. The same act is repeated each day over the course of six weeks.  By participating in this ritual, both the artist and the gallery have become an essential part of the work’s fabric.  Matthew describes the “pre-light” time in the morning as radically different from the “post-light” time.  Before the works within the space are lit, the gallery is somber with individual boxes of shadows that hang on the walls like a jazz funeral for nothingness. However, once they works are illuminated, the space becomes more church-like as flames bounce off of the black ice painting surfaces.

The outcome of the works is unpredictable, as burning rates are inconsistent. The candles are positioned about an inch away from the actual paintings, but so far, only two works have caught on fire. Matthew likened the incidents to a slow burn that left scorch marks on the painting surfaces that resemble the burnt sugary crust of a crème brûlée. When asked about the impermanence of the works, Como states that it is not relevant to him, so much so that perhaps they will be fully eradicated by the time he breathes his last human breath.

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot, Minus Space

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot, Minus Space

 

Como is known as a color field painter with a particular focus and engagement with the color black. His investigations in the color black aim to strip out the “baggage” he associates with most art work, for example colors and their sociological connotations. Whereas the color red may suggest passion and the color green may suggest nature, the color black encompasses everything and is absolute, therefore it is uniform with its meaning and delivery.  Como’s exploration of black is manifold and crosses multiple disciplines: “This includes but is not limited to: black as proprietary color/pigment – the mark used for description or obfuscation, black as darkness – the phenomena or event of light’s absence, and black as matter – the physical manifestation of objecthood, including black holes and universal dark matter.” Como’s inspiration to distill his artwork initially came from viewing Richard Serra’s Weight and Measure drawings in person. Their large scale and velvety blacks were heady and experiential, not unlike Stonehenge.  The Serras inspired Como to shift his perspective and pursue new ways on how to break up space using a restricted palette of black and white. Subsequently, the artist began to mine ideas from modern monochrome painters like Ad Reinhardt, Kazimir Malevich, Donald Judd and Steven Parrino.

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot, Minus Space

Vincent Como, Paradise Lost, 2013, Installation shot, Minus Space

Como creates serial paintings and drawings that are rooted in Minimalism and conceptual art. Most of his works are considered durational, and incorporate elements of art history, literature, astronomy, physics, nihilism, and the occult. Como enjoys overextending ideas, crossing boundaries, and confronting limits with his art. His recent series are products of “renegade” acts such as puncturing, burning or spell casting.  By deconstructing his art, he extracts them from the classical format so that they can be reconstructed with new meaning.  Before any of Como’s art is released into galleries or museums, he “activates” his works in his studio so that the viewer does not have the option of seeing the work through the restrictive lens of just a painting or a drawing. Instead, his works become charged objects and are best presented in their purest form without having acquired any “curatorial patina”–meaning that as works are repeatedly exhibited they begin to build their own mythology via art criticism. Como views layers of curatorial patina on works as a means to an end—weighing down their purity with critical clutter and regurgitated theory.

I look forward to returning to Minus Space tomorrow to attend the Closing Ceremony for the Paradise Lost show. I will report back with an update. In the meantime, dare I say that Black is the new Black?