Fred Giampietro Gallery

Shape Shift

Bottle cap bracelets, craft projects stitched with yarn, braided rugs, Colorforms, ribbon candy, filmstrips, analog TV, a party game called Blockhead.

None of these throwbacks to my childhood are actually in Fred Giampietro Gallery’s exhibition New Geometry II. Most of them aren’t even explicitly suggested. Yet the colors and shapes of the show’s works, their boldness and imbalance, are evocative of both a time when everything was changing and—for me, at least—a time of freedom and play.

A moment in Fred Giampietro’s own youth provided the inspiration for New Geometry II. When a new textbook arrived for his geometry class in 1968, Giampietro was enthralled. “It had a jazzy green and pink cover and was full of hard-edged 1960s graphics and color,” he writes on the exhibition’s webpage. “It soon became clear that, although this new book was teaching the same lessons, it was presenting a fresh perspective. While the rigor was still present, there was a degree of levity that seemed to open a door.”

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Levity and play are present throughout much of the show, where abstract works by 13 artists, two of them anonymous, are on view through March 10. In Will Lustenader’s painting Torana for Dimitri S. (2018), combinations of shape and color suggest a structure—a pagoda, or a ship in full sail—that appears both stable and tottering, resolved but not static. Lustenader’s Recalls Thinking (2017) uses a similar approach, this time building a nest of sorts around something precious—a shape like a pointy egg or an albino leaf, its color a standout mother-of-pearl white. Both paintings read like tangrams, begging to be solved yet resisting the attempt.

Another reminder of childhood, Steve Bartlett’s 54-inch-tall Parkway (2017) stands in the center of the gallery like a giant nesting doll. Seams run up the wooden piece, creating sections like the peels of a giant fruit, meeting in a pointy pedicel. Contiguous black swathes painted with precise edges calm the irregular grain of the wood, a motif that runs through all six of Bartlett’s displayed pieces. The effect is simple and meditative.

There’s precision without symmetry in most of the works in New Geometry II. Amy Vensel’s candy-colored acrylics have brittle, dripping edges you could almost snap off and eat. Each one is bisected by a variegated black and white strip that binds it like a book strap, but the pieces bulge against the constriction and will not be held back.

Don Voisine’s oil paintings on wood panels are perhaps the most geometrically true of the exhibition, blocked in perfectly drawn squares and rectangles and triangles, but there are mischievous disruptions here as well. Voisine layers one shade of black on another and often tips his figures. The glossy surfaces of Monitor (2017), suggesting that old TV screen, become apparent only when you stand at a certain angle. Then the reflections of passersby outside the gallery window flicker on its surface, bringing it to life.

Geometry, of course, isn’t just triangles and quadrilaterals and perfectly drawn lines. “I wanted to expand the breadth of the show,” Giampietro says when I ask about a few pieces that seem at first to be outliers. “I wanted to push it to the limits of geometric abstraction.” Works like Elisa Lendvay’s sculptures, made of materials like plaster, wire, clay and caps—both bottle and acorn—do just that. But there’s balance in them, too, suggesting the organic symmetry of bones or entrails.

What you see in New Geometry II may not be all fun and games. It’s possible to read the edges—sometimes sharp, sometimes ragged—quite differently. Giampietro expects you’ll see them in your own way. He doesn’t mind if you can’t bring an art history background or a trained eye to the show. “I’m much more interested in how artwork relates to contemporary culture than how it relates to other artwork,” he says.

So, be it 1968 or 2018, old or new, take a look. And if you like what you see, Giampietro says, you can return for New Geometry III in 2020.

New Geometry II
Fred Giampietro Gallery – 1064 Chapel St, New Haven (map)
Tues-Sat 11am-5pm through March 10
(203) 777-7760

Written by Kathy Leonard Czepiel. Photographed by Dan Mims.

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