It isn’t all that often that one runs across real, unmitigated visual pleasure in the rarified realm of conceptual art. Most of the time aesthetics are axed in favor of upping the intellectual clarity of the artwork. What a pleasure it is, then, to walk into the curiously-titled “Milking the Flat Cow,” James Hoff’s current solo show at Callicoon Fine Arts on Manhattan’s Lower East Side, and find oneself in the presence of work that’s equally stimulating to the mind and the eye.
At first glance, Hoff’s modestly-sized, untitled abstractions, flat white grounds populated with disjointed loops and dashes, have the kind of calligraphic attitude that marks the work of 20th-century titans like Cy Twombly. In fact, Hoff’s paintings are painstaking enlargements of scratch pads set out in stationery stores upon which customers test the flow of multicolored pens. In their simplicity, they effectively cast a bit of prosaic minutiae—just another tiny bit of everyday life easily subsumed by the roaring noise of the world—into a new light, one full of whimsical beauty.
Hoff’s paintings are displayed alongside several other works that rub up against the tradition of the ready-made, while still showing off enough modifications to grant them their own quixotic identities. A series of brightly-colored umbrellas are finished with ornate handles that display a negative silhouette of the 20th-century renegade businessman Russell Arundel. A series of caterer’s tables appear with legs folded, their undersides painted in the bright hues used by the trade to index and categorize. A book published in an edition of a hundred depicts household objects roughly repurposed according to their morphology and functionality (a microwave used as a mailbox, for instance). Finally, a complex sculpture full of numbered ping-pong balls appears to be a Lotto machine, but turns out to be a clock.
Hoff’s keen eye for the myriad ordering systems that help us run our lives (and their inherent flaws) lends “Milking the Flat Cow” great depth, and makes for a charming and memorable close to the gallery-going year.
James Hoff’s “Milking the Flat Cow” runs through January 6 at Callicoon Fine Arts, 124 Forsyth Street, New York. Images courtesy of the artist and Callicoon Fine Arts.