Letting Go of the Distinction Between Figuration and Abstraction

Una forma que se levanta at Art + Practice (A+P) gallery, in partnership with the Hammer Museum, claims to “[examine] the space between figuration and abstraction” — a great starting point unless you have the sneaking suspicion that this space disappeared decades ago. In the 21st century, I find it hard to hold abstraction and representation in distinct categories. What matters now, and has always mattered most, is the artist’s visual language and how it suggests and even creates a specific experience of being in the world. Curating a group show is itself an abstract exercise in figuration, and with 15 artists curator Jamillah James has done an impressive job of representing artists of varying ages, races, genders, and sexualities.

The exhibition’s thesis on the interplay of figuration and abstraction finds four basic expressions among the featured artists. First is the slightly abstracted figure, a strategy exemplified here by Torey Thornton, Carroll Dunham, Henry Taylor, Jamian Juliano-Villani, and Jason Meadows. Second is the slightly figurative abstraction seen in Amy Sillman, Math Bass, Sadie Benning, and two late works by Robert Colescott. Splitting the difference between these two approaches is a third, employed by Sue Williams, D’metrius John Rice, and Tschabalala Self, in which an even balance is found between figuration and abstraction, neither quite getting the upper hand. Finally, Brenna Youngblood and Kevin Beasley take a fourth path, using metonymy to conjure the figure.

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