Reviewed: Math Bass “Off the Clock,” MoMA PS1, 3 May—31 Aug 2015

Image Courtesy: MoMA PS1's Instagram

Image Courtesy: MoMA PS1

Math Bass’s (b.1981, New York) work explores the ambiguity of forms and multiple ways of contemplating compositions. The artist’s debut solo museum exhibition “Off the Clock” features her ongoing series of goauche paintings on raw canvas all entitled Newz!, an assortment of low-standing powder-coated steel zig-zags, leaning ladders, truncated and inverted casts of legs, and her new video piece Drummer Boi. This selection is representative of the artist’s work produced from 2011 to the present and includes many of Bass’s more recognizable pieces such as her paintings of alligators and cigarettes, her cleanly crafted basswood ladders, and boldly-colored shrouded forms.

Bass has a visual lexicon and is known to recycle forms, colors, and compositional elements. She creates crisp arrangements which are built through repetition—applying subtle alterations to her vocabulary of form, thus giving her work an uncanny and familiar feel. This is especially apparent in her Newz! paintings, many of which evoke the same transient dream-world composed of labyrinthian stairwells, alligators, and wafts of smoke.

The implication of potential motion or action is another quality of the work. This is most apparent in her sculptures. Ladders leaning against the wall, steel forms which appear as though they are about to writhe across the room, and obscured square forms shrouded in vibrant striped fabrics appear as though kneeling. Suspended between motion and stillness, organic and inorganic, human, animal, and object, Bass’s pieces nurture an impulse to decode, identify, and attempt to understand how everything fits together.

Her work benefits greatly from being shown in clusters and groupings. They seduce the eye, activating the potential for an array of possible compositions to emerge and carry a magnetism that permits the perception of a composition that occupies the entire gallery. It is not dissimilar to the experience of traversing a 3-D immersive digital rendering of an unknown planet—an environment that is somewhat uncomfortable in its unfamiliarity yet designed with the intention of having users question and learn how to navigate within it.

A thoughtful exercise in seeing, re-examining one’s expectations of forms and bodies, and striving to develop a new language for approaching the unfamiliar, Bass’s work is both challenging and powerful in its messages.

-Nico Alonso, Digital Assistant

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