In “Air de Pied-à-Terre,” an exceptional show currently on exhibit at Lisa Cooley Gallery, the domestic environment is celebrated, abstracted, and atomized through a collection of fine furniture and art objects that are curated with an exquisite lightness of touch. Like the most beguiling mirages, the tableaux that make up “Air de Pied-à-Terre” beckon enticingly, then quickly recede as the viewer approaches, leaving little but atmosphere to focus the gaze.
Since the mid-Naughts, Lisa Cooley has been one of the most most consistently-engaging downtown art spaces. Until last year the gallery made the most of its home in a narrow sliver of storefront on Orchard Street, where it stood practically shoulder-to-shoulder with Miguel Abreu, another downtown standout with an off-kilter space and singular personality. Now the gallery has moved across Delancey Street, into more spacious digs designed by the architect Reinaldo Leandro. Shows at Lisa Cooley have often embraced a critical appreciation of space (the gallery was an early champion of Andy Coolquitt), but the new, larger location has allowed for more ambitious concepts—shows with more headroom, so to speak. On a hot day last May the sandy earth tones of a suite of abstract paintings by Michael Bauer were complemented by a live performance by Awesome Tapes from Africa, transforming the normally-staid gallery environment into a (somewhat subdued) dance party. “Air de Pied-à-Terre” is an even more dynamic use of the gallery space. Two walls of the gallery are hung with Matthew Darbyshire’s surgically clean, trompe l’oeil banners, their orthographic limits hinting at rooms beyond even as they provide a hard-edged backdrop for the other works on display.
The rest of the room is sparsely populated with paintings, sculptures, a few plants, and high-design domestic objects provided by the boutique Matter. The overall effect is akin to stepping into an alluringly abstract architectural rendering that depicts the ærie of a particularly thoughtful bachelor (or bachelorette). The æsthetic is strikingly contemporary, while also hearkening back to an earlier age when visualizations were done by hand with rapidographs and water-based ink. Standing at the entry, one could fool oneself into believing she stood on the verge of a Madelon Vriesendorp painting, a life-size diorama, or an axonometric by Aldo Rossi.
The works on display reflect a wide range of backgrounds, agendas, and ideologies, and yet they cohere with seamless elegance. Particularly strong individual pieces are the slender wall-hung sculptures of Lisa Williamson, and Alan Reid’s woozy typographic drawings. In fact, many of the two-dimensional works on display involve some kind of written component, lending the show a dreamily poetic element. Even the oddball inclusion, an unobtrusive abstraction by the Catholic nun Sister Corita, weaves a quote by Walt Whitman into its composition. Pushing through the seams of one of Darbyshire’s banners at the rear of the space reveals a second room and a more intimate tableau that finds an off-kilter axis in a mobile by Hanna Sandin.
Departing this imaginary transient apartment, it’s hard not to re-enter the outside world with a lightened step and a fresh perspective on the objects and rooms that serve as the backdrops of our lives. Stepping back outside through the gallery doors, even a gritty block on the Lower East Side seems tinged with the languor and lazy majesty of a page from a book by Perec or Fernando de Pessoa, read through dappled sunlight on a sleepy summer afternoon.
“Air de Pied-à-terre” runs through Sunday at Lisa Cooley, 107 Norfolk Street, New York. Photography by Cary Whittier.