Math Bass' "My Dear Dear Letter" at Fifth Avenue's Mary Boone Gallery
New York-born, LA-based artist Math Bass’ latest show is on view at Mary Boone Gallery’s Fifth Avenue location until July 27th. Housed in a building of suites across from the Plaza Hotel and flanked by upscale retailers Louis Vuitton, Burberry, and Chanel, the gallery has a distinctly upscale vibe. Perhaps it was because this was my first time encountering Bass’s work, or the lingering influence of walking down Fifth Avenue, but the paintings on the wall fell into place with the glossy window displays on the street below.
Titled “My Dear Dear Letter,” and curated by Piper Marshall, this exhibition features the newest works in Bass’s ongoing series of “Newz!” paintings. There is something intensely palatable about these paintings, and the not quite saccharine colors. Each is simple and familiar, yet the vision of the artist behind them is decidedly calculated. There is a clear concern with the arrangement of objects within a space, both that of the gallery and the flattened scene of a canvas. The borders between positive and negative space pulsate, a visual effect amplified by the repetitive chants emanating from four towering speaker/sculptures.
Math Bass was once known primarily as a performance artist, but her practice has always been interdisciplinary. The sculptural elements of this show are fenced in by the large-scale paintings on the wall, which looms cheerily overhead. They feature recognizable forms as an abstraction, their meanings shift in the blink of an eye. Rotating block letters are reduced to shapes with no context, gaping alligator jaws swallow speech bubbles with no words. An impossibly perfect line of unused matchsticks cuts through a plane of rich purple, the red tips heading northeast. In another Newz! painting, the division of the canvas down the middle turns the nude half into a face, with one beady red eye and a black line for a mouth. The red circle is replicated in another work, but on a white background, it becomes an undeniable reminder of the modern Japanese flag.
Perhaps Bass is taking a page from children’s alphabet books, and another from the world of advertising and branding. An interest in co-opting the language of advertising can be seen more literally in a piece like 2016’s Bloomingdale’s, which features the rounded red script of the store logo, underscored by a sweeping red form that could almost be an extended leg, toes frozen in a pointed gesture.
Speaking to Interview Magazine about earlier “Newz!” paintings, Bass explains, “I approach it as a theater of images. I’ve been developing this vocabulary of symbols for the last almost three years now. It continues to generate new images from symbols that I’ve been working with. My interest in the series [comes from] how these forms operate between being architectural and discrete and bodily and, at points, referencing language or alphabet.”