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T here’s more than a modicum of art worth seeing in Artspace’s new exhibition Modicum, though the degree to which that’s true can’t be gleaned from a single viewing. Only a portion of the exhibited work, drawn from this year’s cohort of flatfile artists and curated by Sara Maria Salamone, will be displayed at any given moment, so the timing of your visit will determine what you see. Around the end of February, “we’ll put some of the other work… up in the exhibition, and then place these in the flatfile,” says Lisa Dent, Artspace’s executive director, referring to the pieces currently on view.

The flatfile itself is a metal cabinet of 10 wide and short drawers that, for the foreseeable future, will house just 10 pieces by each of 10 artists every year. Among this year’s class is Gerald Saladyga, whose mixed-media collages bring together charts, maps, grids, drawings and photographs to create high-concept meditations on human history and the nature of the universe. The Representational Proof of the Final Destination of a Cosmic Spiral Ending in a Photographic Past (2015) tells a left-to-right story of sorts that ends with an early 20th-century photograph of a crowd gathered beside some kind of wall in the desert. The people in the crowd appear to have formed from a confluence of clustered dots and squares spilling across the page from a starry, constellated sky. It’s as if Saladyga is trying to trace how we got here from there using visual expressions of physics and geometry. His Locating the Center of the Universe (2016) is similarly anchored by a photograph—this one of a construction site whose girders emerge from colorful, ruler-drawn lines dissecting a series of concentric circles. Throughout the piece, circles attempt to locate that elusive “center” in the topography of earth and sky. Human industrial constructions are the visual end points of both pieces, but Saladyga’s evocation of the universe’s own constructions serves to dwarf our own.

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David Ottenstein’s forthright photographs are more grounded on the earth. They see the world head-on in the verticals and horizontals and basic color palettes of buildings that give at least an initial impression of strength and order. “Barber Shop,” two signs announce on the front of a white building with red and blue trim in Barber Shop (2019), as if the casual passerby might need more information than the small pole at the building’s corner. The shop’s clean, horizontal lines are juxtaposed with the verticals of a fence on either side. The street and, apparently, the shop itself, with curtains closed, are both vacant. The world seems perfectly tidy—until you notice, at the lower right edge of the print, a glimpse of a yellow bench and a green and blue sign picturing several dog breeds. This little detail, which could have been cropped out of the image, knocks it just enough off kilter to keep viewers on their toes. In Red (2019), an abandoned garage offers similarly squared lines in its flat roof, windows, door and boarded-up bays and an equally straightforward palette of white building, red trim and scruffy green grass. The photograph is anchored on the only circular object: a lone hubcap leaning against the building. But as in Barber Shop, an item on the edge—here, a cylindrical metal tank—does the job of keeping the image just a little bit decentered. Ottenstein seems to be telling us not to get too comfortable.

Viewing Jenny Krauss’s pastel gouache paintings is like looking through a microscope. Her cell-like bubbles and strands are organic and fluid. If you watch them long enough, it seems they might split or ooze before your eyes. White lacunae among the pink and orange shapes in Cascade (2021) read like spaces that repelled the paint which, like the shapes themselves, appears to cling and release. In Territory (2021), stacks of green cells peel apart as darker green globules infiltrate, stretching through barriers and settling in. This implied pushing and dripping motion and the sense of surface tension in the medium itself give Krauss’s pieces a dynamic balance of conflict and resolution.

Artspace’s flatfile is open by appointment to curators, collectors and students who want to become better acquainted with the work of artists, many of them local like Saladyga, Ottenstein and Krauss. Dent hopes students will also use the flatfile works as subjects for practice in drawing and writing about art. Her aim is to make the flatfile more accessible, not only by limiting the number of works in the file at any given time but also by continuing to draw upon its contents throughout the year. The flatfile is currently located in one of Artspace’s smaller galleries, along with a study table and chairs. It will stay there at least through June, even after Modicum has closed.

In the past, works collected in the flatfile had been kept indefinitely, growing so numerous that they had to be crowded into additional storage space in Artspace’s basement, which made them hard to access. “I’m trying to find more ways to really give some visibility to the artists that are here,” Dent says, “as opposed to… hoping that people can kind of find a needle in a haystack.”

Modicum
Artspace – 50 Orange St, New Haven (map)
Wed-Sat noon-6pm through March 13, 2021
(203) 772-2709 | info@artspacenh.org
www.artspacenewhaven.org/exhibitions/modicum

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Image 1, of Barber Shop (2019), provided courtesy of David Ottenstein. Image 2, of Cascade (2021), provided courtesy of Jenny Krauss. Image 3, of Locating the Center of the Universe (2016), provided courtesy of Gerald Saladyga. Image 4 photographed by Kathy Leonard Czepiel.

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About Kathy Leonard Czepiel

View all posts by Kathy Leonard Czepiel
Kathy Leonard Czepiel is Daily Nutmeg's associate editor. She's also a fiction writer, writing teacher and book club troubleshooter. Her perfect New Haven day would involve lots of sunshine, a West Rock hike, a concert on the green and a coffee milkshake.

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