N. Dash and Water at SITE SANTA FE … Oct. 6, 2023 – Feb. 5, 2024
My second time in five days, into the widened out gallery space and I walk up to a woman I didn’t know and ask what she thinks of the paintings. Days ago before I’d seen the works I was afraid the artist N. Dash had quickly slapped some shit on canvas and hype of some kind had brought her work into this contemporary gallery that I had respected. The pandemic has made me skeptical of contemporary art, this space, my interest and ability to see art. I’m sick of everyone taking pictures of everything and thinking they are great.I like them, the woman says quickly, like I had said to myself as soon as I’d spent my required five seconds looking at one, and then all of them, and then here I was coming back again to them. But this open space, the woman said, was causing her awe. The curator and director of SITE Santa Fe had opened up spaces that are usually winding, purposely mazelike, in order to unfurl several previous exhibitions, methodically. I want these paintings to be present together in space, nearly all at once, just as the curator set them out for me. One with some almost representational organic detail opens the show, three or so are a come on, and then this big gallery filled with stuff that’s fun to stand in front of and look for a nice while, see the layers, examine the depth, get a little lost in thought.
A guy from the state-run contemporary art museum in Ghent, Belgium starts to talk about how he reacts to this work, and he says things about why the show’s called “and Water” and how the show he put together of the artist’s work a few years ago was called “earth” and about natural hot springs and how surprising they are, and something about how carefully each piece seem to have been made and seem skin-like, in a living way. He says he knows the artist is skeptical of words. And he’s careful just to say his response, what he gets from the work, nothing prescriptive to lookers except to suggest that one might be rewarded if they give a work a few extra seconds, some real attention.
He’s speaking through a microphone that’s echoing throughout the room and I can see the colors doing the same thing, a little hit of the religious tones that come off a good Rothko painting. But when I get in front of a deep blue painting, I am impressed by the richness of the skin – a word I like but would not have thought until he put it in my head – and can see why the Belgian uses a word that brings to mind: pelt, bark, epidermis and regular dermis, pore. The cloth on the frame undulate from a side view, and I see the layer of mud the artist puts on the canvas first like a thick wash of gesso. The mud is a layer you can see from the side, like a bevel on a mirror. The paints of various kinds of shine build up on the mud that is obviously unstable – unlike a hard sanded layer of gesso. And the surface is taut. I think of atoms and the continual vibration inside them, the space that is always in the process of being pushed apart and pulled together.