Postpositive: New Work by Zach Meisner at Courtney Blades
Appearances can be deceiving in Zach Meisner’s work, and what may seem like a potentially recognizable form at first is often an illusion. His recent exhibition, currently on view at Courtney Blades, is no exception. In New Work, a collection of small paintings, symbols stand in for silhouettes of busts; asymmetry masks itself as something more harmonious, and meaningless forms take lovely lapses into the aesthetics of utilitarian design objects. Though made out of low-grade construction materials – Plexiglas, plywood, MDF, and acrylic – Meisner’s paintings are sleek, clean, and crisp. Through combinations of bold geometric elements and slow passages of sensory play, Meisner’s paintings border on the cusp of object and surface. – Stephanie Cristello, Chicago Contributor
For Meisner, the experience of looking adjusts the painting’s form as you see it – though the paintings exist first on formal and physical terms, they are postpositively defined by the phenomenal, subtly different variations they present to the viewer depending on their location. Though the paintings contain Op elements identifiable from the mid 1960s, the action never happens until you are up close. Each painting contains within it an encased “window” through which different experiences emerge; little vistas where color, form, and line dance in different ways. There is also secret sense of humor to the palette, a combination of purposely-offensive fluorescents, prettily subdued pastels, and office supply standards, which Meisner effortlessly manipulates at his will. Like facets of a crystal, they shift and change with light. While the paintings remain small, smaller than easel-sized in most cases, they articulate themselves on a much larger scale; the generosity of the paintings outweighs their seemingly miniature size. The newest collection of work in this exhibition acts as documentation of a pictorial language that Meisner has been developing for almost 15 years. At once hieroglyphic and deadpan, the paintings are equally symbolic as they are formal.
Zach Meisner | Untitled, 2013, Acrylic, MDF, Plexiglas, and Screen-print, 14.75 x 10” Courtesy of the artist and Courtney Blades.
In this sense, the term “postpositive” registers with the exhibition in a few ways, first in the act of looking, but also as an explanation of Meisner’s attitudes toward taste. As a direct translation would have it, the paintings are therefore beyond good. Since Meisner’s style is so apparent and foregrounded in the work, taste no longer becomes a valid part of the formula for speaking about his work. A reason for not liking a particular painting would be a physical reaction rather than a critical one; the response is defined by whether or not our eyes naturally find that hue of orange pleasant, not whether it suits our aesthetics. In this way, Meisner retroactively makes a reality of Op’s obsession with the phenomenon of a mirror, in the truest sense. His paintings reflect the viewer’s literal vision within the object, since they behave as we see them, but they also reflect the other paintings in the room, because of the shared formal syntax.
Zach Meisner, Untitled, 2013. Acrylic, MDF, Plexiglas, and Screen-print, 16 x 15” Courtesy of the artist and Courtney Blades.
While in most cases this formula would be insular and exhaustive, in this context the paintings are open books. In a piece that gives a nice nod to Donald Judd, consisting of stacked mirrored orbs unassumingly placed on an edge of the gallery wall, Meisner continues to redefine Op standards of reflection. Though at first the piece seems to be a different variety of work, compared to the otherwise hard-edged paintings that command space, the installation offers what the interior windows of the surrounding paintings let you experience, yet floating and unbound. The small sculptures resemble billowing iridescent bubbles, where delicate hues of vibrant purples shift to green, and orange-pinks to pale blues. Likely made out of a mirrored surface below paperweight, the piece further delves into the formal playground Meisner occupies himself with – taking ordinary objects and making them exquisite, even if for just a second.
Meisner’s attitude toward seeing is but a symbol of vision reflected in material things: chromatic palpitations, little jolts of retinal electricity, interference, moirés, and visual distortions. Like the work of his predecessors, Bridget Riley and Victor Vasarely to name a few, the paintings in this exhibit create a digital space out of analog means – a gesture that speaks to the currency of Op’s dependency on a viewer’s displacement in relation to the image plane, yet certainly within a different context given the digital possibilities available in 2013.
Zach Meisner, Untitled, 2013. Acrylic, MDF, Birch, and Plexiglas 10 x 5” Courtesy of the artist and Courtney Blades.
While Meisner holds steadfastly to elements that define his immediate style – the shaped relief supports, color, form and contour, compositional balances between symmetry and asymmetry – we arrive at something fresh and exciting in each one. We arrive at the possibility of a history without weight, a lightness that allows us to rewrite experiences retroactively through visual means, and make them new again.
Zach Meisner, Untitled, 2013. Acrylic, MDF, Birch, and Plexiglas, 25 5/8 X 15 Inches, Courtesy of the artist and Courtney Blades.
Zach Meisner was born in Taos, New Mexico, and currently lives/works in Chicago, IL. Meisner has exhibited in New Mexico, Colorado, and Chicago. In September 2012 he had a solo exhibition Low-Relief at the LeRoy Neiman Center Gallery.
Stephanie Cristello is an artist, curator, and writer who lives and works in Chicago, IL.