It is clear from “Grass Grows by Itself” that the recent accumulation of environmental traumas and social malaise has prompted some artists to retreat inward. The eighteen artists exhibited here evince subtle, meditative strategies, in keeping with the Zen proverb from which the exhibition takes its title: “Sit quietly, doing nothing, as when spring comes, the grass grows by itself.”
Although the investigations on view trace back to the 1980s, with the inclusion of Carmen Herrera’s geometric abstract paintings and Wolfgang Laib’s brass cones resting on beds of white rice, curator Sima Familant foregrounds the practices of four outstanding emerging artists: Kianja Strobert, Robert Žungu, Leigh Ruple, and Molly McIver. Strobert incorporates pigmented pumice, gilded chicken bones, and discarded newspapers to compose paintings suggestive of new cartographic terrains, somewhat reminiscent of Jasper Johns’s monochromatic maps. Žungu’s photograph Hemingway and Cat, 2010, documents the interior of a barn in the Catskills where outsider artist Micrea Ionescu composed his last assemblage. Here, the scene seems to emblematize entropy, decay, and dismantled identity.
On the second floor, the exhibition embodies feminist overtones: Ruple’s abstract painting depicts a female figure entwined in warped stretcher bars. The stretcher bars, now curved, accentuate the female form. McIver’s silk-screen painting enlarges an otherwise imperceptible pattern found on the inner flap of a security envelope. The artist also presents a series of eggs suspended, and sometimes exploded, in clear resin blocks. Inside this sculptural, umbilical space, the ova are frozen in time.
“Grass Grows by Itself” neither proposes retreating to Walden Pond nor encourages building Ted Kaczynski’s cabin. Rather, it achieves a meditative tone, facilitating introspection of the sort that allows change to occur.