With its chic, elegant setting and adventurous programming, Corners Gallery in Cayuga Heights is an important, independent force in local art. While not every show is equally rewarding, one usually walks away having seen something unexpected.
Up at Corners through Saturday, “Intricate Universe” features work by Thea Gregorius, Paula Overbay, and Jayoung Yoon. All three are recent alumni of Ithaca’s Constance Saltonstall Foundation for the Arts, which brings artists and writers from all over New York State to their rural campus for summer residencies.
Using eccentric techniques and materials, each artist conceives their pieces here as metaphors for larger realities: material and experiential.
Each engages the legacy of Postminimalism, albeit refracted through contemporary sensibility. Emerging in the late sixties, the movement responded to the hard geometric forms, serial structures, and industrial aesthetic of Minimalism. Mutant versions of minimal geometry vied with Surrealist-inflected biomorphism and chaotic “anti-form.” Non-traditional materials and a focus on “process” over conventional finish were also key.
The work here suggests a kind of domesticated radicalism: Postminimalism in cozily self-contained, well-crafted objects.
Yoon, of Beacon, NY has the most expansive practice: incorporating performance, video, and two-dimensional works in addition to the suspended sculptures she’s showing here. The artist periodically shaves her head as part of her self-invented ritual; her hair then becomes her primary sculptural material, woven into vessel-like and sometimes explicitly figural forms. Her approach is phenomenological—art-work as an investigation of perception and the body—while also engaging Christian, Buddhist, and other spiritual traditions.
Eight feet long, “The Portal” is a hollow horn-shape, descending from a ceiling corner point in a gentle arc and expanding in diameter until reaching eye-level. Resembling a sort of telescope and evoking the mechanisms of perspective drawing, it suggests the idea of sculpture as more instrument than object.
Yoon’s other pieces here are smaller; one might hold them in one’s hand were they not so fragile and contained within plexiglass cases. Some employ different materials. “The Offering Bowl #1” holds feathery white milkweed seed fibers, while in “Sensing Thought #5,” a fuzzy field of hair surrounds a spiky black thorn—evoking a familiar iconography of suffering and transcendence.
Both of New York City, Gregorius and Overbay are more traditional in their focus on two-dimensional work. Yet each artist employs unusual techniques and compositional approaches that evade the familiar languages of painting and drawing. Both use repeated, massed dotting—something which has become a small genre in recent visual art. And both artists eschew Yoon’s centering on the body for a sensibility that more cosmological, less explicitly rooted.
Like Yoon’s, Gregorius’ work engages obliquely with the aesthetic of drawing. Using white handmade paper, she applies careful pinpricks from the reverse side, creating staccato embossments that coalesce into repetitive but complex geometries. Purposefully austere, the works evoke exercises in hatching or shading—efforts in making as a form of seeing. They demand a similar patience and quieting from the viewer.
“Horizon Relief XIV” consists of two tall, rough-edged sheets framed together. In each, rows three circles wide alternate with rows of half-circles: arcs facing alternatingly upwards and down in a strict grid-based logic. “VII” and “VIII” from the same series deploy similar repetitions on larger single sheets. “Halo Relief VI” embraces a more involuted, mandala-like geometry using the same elements.
Paula Overbay’s paintings on paper and wood take a more baroque, extroverted approach to the dot abstraction school. Particularly in her larger panel pieces, her stippling achieves an immensely intricate density, accumulating into sublime, interwoven fields that recall Leonardo’s visionary ink drawings of the atmosphere.
”Wing” and “Wind Machine,” both acrylic on wood, feature waves and clouds of predominantly white dots suspended against softly dappled, rich blue grounds. Occasional bursts and threads of red and (in the former) yellow draw the viewer inside.
The tendency towards intricate, labor-intensive patterning in recent art has been characterized alternately as “meditative” and “obsessive.” While the former term suggests a kind of self-therapy, the latter, in strange contrast, implies something almost pathological. The language is telling. Apart from the personal imagery and associations that each artist in “Universe” brings, there’s something uncanny going on: sustained efforts to mediate between fundamentals of human experience and something beyond us.