Contemporary art isn’t known for conspicuous beauty, nor do many artists today strive to satisfy classical models of skill. E. Thurston Belmer and Magdalena Firląg disrupt this trend wherein technique kowtows to concept. Why not have it both ways? In The Compounding Edge, an exhibition currently on view at Salomon Arts Gallery in Tribeca, these artists do just that. Belmer’s mammoth oil paintings meet Firląg’s intricate mosaics; the symbolic takes on an edgy sensibility that cuts deeper the longer one looks.

Of Belmer’s six works on view, three stretch across the gallery’s west wall as though a quasi-triptych. The dramatic Portrait with Purple Vase dominates the left third, depicting a static bedroom setting in looming low-key lighting. A nude woman commands the center of the stage, though supine and resigned; her hair spills down the foreground, an anchor against some upset. In Belmer’s trenchant Bone and Blood, to the left, a couple confronts us from a similarly restrained space of shadow. As though caught en media res, the female player contorts the mouth and eye of her male companion; he grips his chest in shock or allegiance, their domestic calm on the brink of rupture. The vertical In Blue, at center, displays a woman suspended against or above a decaying white door, our sense of gravity unsettled by the scene’s competing diagonal planes.

E. Thurston Belmer, Bone and Blood, oil on canvas, 6.5 x 5.75 ft.

E. Thurston Belmer, Bone and Blood, oil on canvas, 6.5 x 5.75 ft.

Belmer’s smaller pieces are less overtly theatrical, but retain a graceful tension between the solemn and irreverent. Deep Purple (Napolean Death), Goethe, and Academie pay creative homage to the death mask—complicating the traditional form as the artist combines the facial composites of multiple historic figures to arrive at a final image. Implicitly challenging notions of identity as fixed or timeless, each painting is somehow both regal and creepy. In all of Belmer’s work, there is a danger beneath the placid surface, like a dull blade lurking underwater.

We experience the reverse when approaching Firląg’s two mosaics on the opposite wall, which in a sheer number of steps transform from intricate splendor to skin-slicing certainty. Broken bottles jut out from cement and plaster; one has the instinct to touch a surface so dazzling, but then recoils when it’s all in reach. As such, Firląg throws into jagged relief the disjuncture between the lure of commodity culture and the hazards that it conceals. In The Great Glass for NYC, countless shards makes up a glittering $00,000,000,000 bill, a composite of global currencies that demanded an entire month for the artist to construct. With “fingers loose and mind concentrated,” Firląg
arranges her glass tesserae in a painterly manner, belying her five months of training in lacquer arts in Vietnam.

Magdalena Firląg, The Great Glass for NYC, recycled bottles, cement, plaster board, and metallic structure, 8.5 x 4 ft., © Eliot Goldstein.

Magdalena Firląg, The Great Glass for NYC, recycled bottles, cement, plaster board, and metallic structure, 8.5 x 4 ft., © Eliot Goldstein.

Her abstract mosaic, Mold, has a decorative tactile quality made ominous by its title. Toward the bottom of the piece, eleven circular mirrors invite us to see ourselves amidst shattered glass—just as, in her adjacent work, eleven zeros simulate a bogus piece of cash.

At first, Belmer and Firląg seem a peculiar pairing. Belmer hails from Boston, resides in Brooklyn, and at 6’5 stands nearly as tall as his canvases. Born in Poland, Firląg splits her time between New York, Warsaw, and Mexico City, scavenging urban centers for the recycled bottles that comprise her work. But under Naera Kim’s thoughtful curation, the two make sense. Belmer’s brooding, lustrous portraits prove at once raw in content and painstakingly composed. Firląg’s work likewise presents a focused precision—in tension with the literal trash factor of her medium. Together they share a fearlessness unfettered by ambition, forming work that probes, provokes, disquiets, yet never at the expense of arresting beauty. The Compounding Edge is painfully good.

The Compounding Edge is now open for private viewing by appointment until November 7th at the Salomon Arts Gallery, 82 Leonard Street, 4th Floor, Tribeca, New York, NY 10013. Hours: Wednesday-Friday 2-6PM; Saturday 3-6PM; T: 212-966-1997; info@salomonarts.com; www.salomonarts.com; www.naeraarts.com.

Naera Kim: 917-575-6548
Hours – Monday – Saturday by appointments. Walk in hours Wed-Fri 2-6pm.

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