5 (Mostly Imaginary) Ways of Redeeming Jacob Kassay’s Show at The Kitchen

Pity poor Jacob Kassay. A young painter with a decent idea — electroplated silver paintings — has become a living punch line, all on account of the fact of the huge and clearly speculative interest in his works that has made him the poster boy for the madness of the contemporary art market. It is really impossible to look at anything he does and ask the question, “Is it really worth all that attention?” And the answer can’t help but be, “Probably not.”

Why an experimental nonprofit like the Kitchen would choose to debut a new suite of works by Kassay is a little beyond me — the commercial art market has given him quite enough exposure. At any rate, he has used the opportunity to offer up a show called “Untitled (disambiguation),” and is clearly trying to put some air between himself and the whole silvery paintings thing. In fact, Kassay has stood one large mellow silver painting in a corner, as if to symbolize this aspiration in the most literal possible way. Another silver painting is put in the stairwell.

The main attraction is a series of shaped, slightly inchoate canvasses, dun-colored or in mild monochromes. One is a frame-like shape that bridges a corner, another a gawky L. Most are smallish uneven rectangles. They look like Richard Tuttle at his most roguishly indistinct. A lot like that, actually.

At least Kassay is trying to find his way forward (later in the month, there is going to be a drum performance at the Kitchen based on a “graphical score” by the artist). Rather than just complain, I also tried hard, while I was at the show, to imagine what kind of idea it would take in order to make these paintings seem new and interesting enough to warrant the attention. Here are some that I came up with (Hint: One of these is the actual idea behind the show):

  1. The mellow colors of the paintings are the faded colors of institutional interiors in upstate New York, where Kassay went to school. The shapes reference floor plans of various incomplete buildings. The half-formed character of the works is a comment on industrial decline.
  2. The shapes of the canvasses are the abstracted forms of runes from Nordic myth, and the show is meant to cast a spell to exorcize the unfortunate demonic spirits that have possessed his career.
  3. The beige canvases are, in fact, scraps of linen he collected while living on a kibbutz in an attempt to reconnect with and understand a non-market driven way of life.
  4. The pieces are leftovers from earlier paintings he did, and paired with them conceptually to create the world’s biggest diptychs.
  5. They are not paintings at all but fabric stretched over scrap wood that Kassay found on the street, and that he is presenting as art here as a subversive commentary on how anything he touches turns to gold (or silver).

If you want to discover the answer to this quiz, you can find it in the press release, below:

— Ben Davis