Back in July, Nathan Kennard opened up Private Eye, a new exhibition space located on the Eastside. Kennard is a Houston staple and known for his events, projects, and late night programming. A gallery and its vision isn’t something someone can just fall into. Programming and presenting in an old warehouse is one thing, but opening up a presentable location takes time and dedication. The new Eastside spot could very much have been a flash in the pan shortly after opening up its doors, but Kennard had other plans. On March 2, Barry Elkanick opened his solo show at Private Eye, making a bold and professional stance. With vaulted ceilings, an impeccable sense of lighting, and an open floor plan, the new gallery, located in a large craftsman home, has just as much foundation to build off of as a blue chip gallery.
Barry Elkanick is not the showboating type of artist. He is a humble, reserved, and studious creative working at fine-tuning his craft. His work speaks for itself, and he mostly works behind the scenes with his exhibitions. Elkanick’s work has been presented around the country; he has presented his work locally as well with Suplex and worked on projects alongside local artists and curators like Pablo Cardoza and Mark Flood.
The works of Elkanick are as much gallant as they are eloquent. His newest show, Put the Painting in It’s Coffin, is an impressive collection of paintings, sculptures, prints and drawings. With such a vast many directions of mediums and wild ideas, you’d think Elkanick and Kennard would surely miss the mark, but this was far from the truth. The show was fresh and minimal, and it had the curatorial attention of a veteran institution. Despite still being a little green behind the ears, Kennard has direction, and his attention to detail with this exhibition is perceptible. Together, Elkanick and Kennard have orchestrated a well-planned exhibition, but the works themselves are by far the heroes of the show. The pieces work splendidly with the building and its luminous layout, presenting the viewer with a multitude of surprises. Although there are over a dozen works displayed in the 1,000-square-foot space, the exhibition managed to manifested into a harmony of spatial relations.
With a large body of work it can be a slippery slope to present a dialog with the pieces and not overhang and suffocate. The sculptures read as installations and were peppered throughout the space, creating intriguing moments with a corner of the room or at the foot of a floating wall. A small shelf near the back of the gallery held a collection of small Dada-like objects: A cement core sample perches upon a bright yellow cup of sorts as a painted putty knife props at a 45 degree angle with two bright berry attachments assisting it; meanwhile, a twist of found, rusted-through barbed wire references a scribble as a perfectly stacked catalog disguised itself as a pure object, balancing the far end of the collection.
Anchoring the room was a new series of prints and drawing/print hybrids floating as a grouping in the center of the space. The prints were sharp and kept the viewers circling back to them to catch another hidden detail that they perhaps missed the first time around. The prints were stylized and mostly black and white in tone. They were very different from the other works, yet they still found their belonging within the exhibition. Works like “A new World?” and “Sunflowers on my Trail to Bury an Old Friend” were smart, pure, and an obvious tip of the hat to mid-century graphic designers and printers like Paul Rand and Jacqueline Casey.
A few of Barry’s more recognizable paintings were sprinkled throughout the show, but unlike many rut-stuck artists of the same flavor everyday, these iconic paintings were welcomed. Old in reference yet new in form, the dye on linen paintings were bright and airy. “Walnut” was quite gestural with the dye application and very painterly in application. With the interior of the painting containing the message and the outer edges left free in motion, “Walnut” was light yet embodied the weight of Joan Mitchell’s 1969 painting, “Sunflower III.”
Sharing the same wall was a petite yet sculptural painting, “Consent in Mucus.” The small, ghostly painting was bordered in rusted nails as the cracked white center resembled a dry mudded river bed or desert floor. Although partnered with other object or paintings, the paintings together created a vibrance from their minimalism. On the floor and hiding just below the works was “Doddering Pacifist,” made of two white sticks of wood and mesh. It resembled a very small chair or museum guard stool. The non-functional piece, as well its companions, adds a comical punch line or well-placed antidote to the rest of the works on the wall yet hold their own as individual notations.
From special pedestal moments as “Worms,” a tongue-in-cheek painting on a circular saw blade, to the heavy blue migration and planned wonderings of “Tangerine II,” Elkanick played his hand well and strategically. The young artist spins a revivifying timeline and creates not only an homage to art history anchors as John Chamberlain, Robert Ryman and Robert Rauschenberg, but truly paints with his very own voice and dedication.
Put the Painting in its Coffin is a well organized and skillful exhibition for Barry Elkanick and a launching point for Nathan Kennard and Private Eye. Veteran galleries and gallerists should take notes with this exhibition. Houston could use more vim and vigor like this pumping through its circulatory
Barry Elkanick‘s exhibition is on view at Private Eye through April 6. You can view the exhibition on Saturdays between 12 p.m. and 5 p.m. or by appointment.