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Over Time
May 25 - June 24 2018
Opening Reception: Thursday, May 24, 6-8 PM 

Jacobs Ladder, Acrylic and price tags on rag paper, 1976     
Jacobs Ladder, Acrylic and price tags on rag paper, 1976

Cynthia Carlson helped define the New York Pattern and Decoration movement in the late 1970s. Imagine walking into a series of rooms, each covered floor to ceiling with interlocking, 3-Dimensional patterns that surround and frame artworks that don’t distinguish themselves from the ornamentation. These all-over installations defied categorization, presenting themselves simultaneously as paintings, wallpaper, architectural interventions, decoration, and kitsch. They could be described as grand gestures of heroic painting applied with fanatical feminine flair. Her innovations in painting include dispensing with the support all together and creating room-sized paintings using cake decorators. The hallowed and sacred grid is another canonical device that Carlson manages to bend, warp, curly-cue, blob over, remix, and reconstitute according to her wit and will. Carlson once said during a studio visit that “Having a sense of humor means taking yourself seriously as an artist.” This nice adage demonstrates her attitude of serious play with relation to art historical archetypes, stereotypes, and her own artistic practice.

Essex Flowers is ecstatic to present a mini-survey of Cynthia Carlson’s work over time. Presented on the south wall are a series of drawings from the early to mid 70’s that foreshadow the installation work that earned her international recognition. The drawings were, in part, inspired by how vast landscape spaces are comprised of patterns and repeating forms. She translates this phenomenon of spatial pattern by combining trompé l’oeil, drip painting, drop shadows, edge detail, and real objects affixed to paper. The drawings dovetail into a detail of Medley for Milwaukee, an installation originally commissioned by the Milwaukee Art Museum in 1982. Medley reforms urban space as a tile grid and a series of faux archways, borrowing architectural motifs from two historical Milwaukee buildings: the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Company and the Layton Art Gallery. A customized segment of Medley for Milwaukee has been created for this occasion. On the north wall are selections from an on-going series of books and recent paintings, both of which continue to expand on Carlson’s meditations on the grid as a perimeter. The books are, in her words, “what I do when I have writer’s block in my studio.” Her recent paintings play with spatial constraints by overlapping and interrupting the rectangle using stacks of colorful, conjoined and shaped canvases.

This will be Cynthia Carlson’s, 50th one-woman exhibition. Others have been mounted at Phyllis Kind Gallery in Chicago, Hundred Acres Gallery, and Pam Adler Gallery in New York City, The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, Lowe Art Museum, Albright-Knox Gallery, The Queens Museum, Neuberger Museum of Art, Hudson Opera House, Gallery Gris, just to name a few. Her work is in numerous public collections, a selection of which include the Guggenheim Museum, the New Museum of Contemporary Art, Brooklyn Museum, Albright-Knox Art Gallery, National Museum of Women in the Arts, Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Milwaukee Art Museum, and San Antonio Art Museum. Her public commissions are permanently installed in New York City, Philadelphia, Los Angeles and Baltimore. In 2018-2019 Cynthia Carlson will be featured in several upcoming museum exhibitions which focus on the Pattern and Decoration movement, at the Musee d'Art Moderne et Contemporain, in Geneva Switzerland, at the Le Consortium, in Dijon, France and at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, CA.

Cynthia Carlson and Joyce Kozloff discuss their work, Pattern and Decoration, feminism and activism. Moderated by Melissa Brown. 6/19/2018