Continuing through February 24, 2018
Patti Oleon’s five paintings, slated for a show dubbed “Sideways" (after the title of one work), prompt the question: What’s the ceiling on painted architectural interiors? That can be taken literally, in the sense of challenging the relevance of such modes. Is it an overplayed trope, and/or ultimately placating to the market? It's also as a pun-like take on one of Oleon’s recurring motifs, in which ceilings double as floors; in the case of “Danielli” — perhaps the strongest among these new paintings — it’s not clear whether we’re seeing ceiling or sky. The oil-on-panel (and linen-over-panel) paintings, ranging in size from two-feet to four-and-a-half-feet high, qualify as jewel-like, and clearly offer eye-candy splendors in their re-interpretations of grand European lobbies, hotels, hallways and opera houses from locales such as Istanbul, Venice and Prague.
When, though, do the works transcend fetishization? Most likely when they fully embody one of Oleon’s ongoing themes: deception, disorientation, and perhaps a touch of Escher-like ambiguity. “Sideways," the four-by-three foot panel of the show’s title, represents one of her recurring Photoshopped tweaks: take an interior image from about eye-level up to the ceiling, then crop, copy and flip it so that the ceiling then also doubles as the floor. It’s a simple pictorial technique but one that’s effective in evoking more than just an abstract articulation of vertigo, possibly a mild sense of déjà vu. Who hasn’t at some point, particularly as a youngster, laid on the bed with head hung backwards over the side, fantasizing that the ceiling is now the floor, our ordinary environs turned extraordinary? Additionally, “Sideways" proffers an odd, one-off quirk. In a vocabulary of interiors otherwise devoid of people, here a young man with an upturned collar, from chest level to head as seen from the back, floats in vertically mirrored double at the near end of a baroque, lamp-lit, wood-paneled hallway. In terms of whether the ploy of his inclusion is a success, it’s too difficult to come down on one side or the other through reproduction alone; but it definitely gets points for straying outside the artist’s usual box.
With “Danielli," meanwhile, we don’t know exactly what we’re looking at. Is it an interior or exterior? The floor or the ceiling? Mezzanine or lobby? That emphasis on ambiguity is necessary for the paintings to live longer lives of sustained viewing, as opposed to being quick if luscious reads. Another piece, "Istanbul Lobby," takes more of a pictorial middle road: we know that we’re seeing a quasi-Rococo loveseat-type number, sitting on a rug and being reflected on the lobby’s marble floor, but the way in which the reflection begins beyond the rug supporting the furniture leads to a peculiar floating effect: the rug has been turned into a flying carpet.
One of my favorite Oleon paintings, from a 2016 exhibition and so not on view in the current show, is set neither in a classic European city nor even in an interior with much vintage. Rather, it’s a modern carpeted hallway with simple wallpaper but otherwise completely unadorned. In the middle distance, the space — perhaps a lobby for that floor, or maybe the artist’s manufactured break — completely whites out, emanating its reflections onto the foreground hallway’s walls; a dark continuation of the hall resumes on the other side of the blinding white. It’s title? "LA Apartment Hallway.” I bring it up because it suggests that incorporating contemporary locales into her heavy diet of historical ones could be an effective way to mix things up.