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An After Taste of Absinthe

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By Daniel Morowitz

The nineteenth century the French Salon was the preeminent place to exhibit paintings. Stacked floor to ceiling, inclusion in a show could make the career of a painter; even rejection birthed new movements like Impressionism from reactions against the institution. Although the gallery world has changed the standard of exhibitions, echoes of the salon are still evident in display for contemporary shows. Robert Ventura’s exhibition Le Fleurs du Mal, the namesake derived from a Baudelaire poem, manages to encapsulate the salons aesthetic in the display of his abstract paintings. Much like the poems of Baudelaire, the symbolism derived from Rob’s paintings speak to a decadence of todays world; relying more on the digital than the sensual, touch is forgone for pixilation, a digital intimacy as real as the world these paintings exist within.

Curated by the Dorado Project’s Enrico Gomez, in conjunction with SILVERMAN and the Majestic Theatre Condominium Association, the show takes over the historic lobby of the Montgomery Street Condominiums. The lobby, with high ceilings and embellished molding, is more reminiscent of a chateau, opulent and timeless, a throwback to a baroque luxury as opposed to stark white cube of the gallery. As you enter the space, “2 +2 = 5, “a burnt orange abstraction redacted with black blobs and speckled with a mix of dark blue, red, and green streaks welcomes the viewer; Much like a grand manor curtain, the dark invitation with its bisecting curvature right, draws you into the space, a wall to staircase sweep of paintings nearly primary in color, but referencing as many things as Flowers, nineteenth century France, Cy Twombly, and even the immateriality of paint in a digital reality. Like the title of the show, the works take on a reference in name to Baudelaire. “Paris Spleen,” a direct naming from the poets work, marries the desire of aesthetics with the beautiful experience of painting, culminating in not sublimation, but a toxic mess on the canvas. This is a digestion of paint, the inversion of what’s appealing repackaged to read contaminated, a swan swimming within a gutter. The reference to Paris green, an impressionist color packed with arsenic and potentially responsible for Manet’s death, pushes the painting into the realm of intoxicating. A black blob, phantasmal like the lurking figure of Toulouse Lautrec, hovers at the bottom right corner, the paintings aura very much mired in impressionist language, brings an after taste of absinth into the twentieth century abstraction the work heavily relies on. Through color, Rob is able to break down a memory of a Parisian bar scene into its most economical forms; the blob is at all times drink, spill, simulation and personified.

“Le Fleurs du Mal,” embodying the name of the show, is similarly colored to the introduction painting, “2 + 2 =5,” but blends the color field abstraction with ventures into figuration. Composing of primarily burnt red-orange and redacted with black masses, the negative spaced shapes don’t streak like Rob’s other redaction, and rather, they take on a skull-like sinister appearance. The flowers of evil, miasmatic and dangerous, are simultaneously painfully inert, a representation of a representation of evil; like a digital pixel the abstraction is a imitation of something real and a context-less square broken down into a color logic designed to illicit recognition. “The Joyous Defunct,” the most obviously floral, rose-like abstraction, could easily fit into a preloaded screen saver on any low-resolution computer. The meta field of these flowers, a digital one, takes over within paint where nature itself is limited.

Incidental mark making is very sparse in Rob’s work, if not completely devoid, opting for a more controlled application of paint. Lotus, a radial of red and green blocks centering on a flat burst of yellow, is peppered with only three drips, two small green ones that seem to intentionally offset the circular nature of the piece, and one dark reddish sun near the yellow burst’s center that could easily be written off as a mistake. Rob is very selective with these breathing moments, “15 Step,” the largest painting in the show, on the center of the central back wall, incorporates pockets of white within the black web of paint strokes, that both cut out the mass of colors, but also lend a necessary bareness to the densely packed earth tones of robs other works; the effect a bareness associated with blank canvas that stabilizes the painting in a state of unfinished but prevents it from suffocating as an eyesore. Enrico describes the piece as “the light that trickles in from a canopy when the wind blows” a signifier that air is moving through and a welcome breath of freshness inside the dark garden. The Exhibition, which opened July 14th, will run to October 30th.

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