Sylvan Lionni's "Before the Flood" at Freight and Volume

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New York artist Sylvan Lionni once characterized himself as a "child of Mondrian and the video arcade," a description that could ring true for many in the current generation of painters intent upon collapsing the abstract/representational divide in a Pop context. Lionni's particular strategy entails the artist producing renderings of mass-produced objects like lottery tickets, stripped of all but their geometric undergarments. These immaculate paintings reveal their conceptual angle in their very making: layer upon layer of acrylic lend their products a thick, hard-edged polish, while also divesting them of authorial marks. This labor-intensive performance of post-industrial manufacture not only draws attention to contemporary conditions of production and consumption, but also illuminates the threshold Lionni's referents cross, when remade as functionless art-objects. As strong as these conceptual foundations may be, "Before the Flood," Lionni's current exhibition at New York's Freight & Volume fails to match past bodies of work. The solar panel is the source of his new paintings, which the artist variably hangs, props against walls and, in the most humorous installation, tilts towards the ceiling, on aluminum bracing, as if they absorb light in the same fashion as their sources (Sun Ra, 2008). Yet the press release is a disservice to their formal elegance, which excerpts Glenn Dixon's muddy "Daylight Saving Time," including the author's claim that "In the wake of the industrial revolution, the production and consumption of energy were driven apart - largely owing to the offense given by production to the eye, ear, or nose." Lionni's referents carry enough resonance to stand without such theoretical girding. - Tyler Coburn

Image: Sylvan Lionni, Sun Ra, 2008

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