Nancy Riegelman’s work unfolds slowly, rewarding the patient observer with an optimistic and ethereal view of passing time. For several years, the artist has engaged in a rigorous practice of documenting her own respiration by drawing a line for each breath she takes during a set period. It is an intuitive, steady process. The results, with their discipline and poignancy, are reminiscent of Agnes Martin’s grids, but Riegelman’s art is born of performance more than painting—specifically, the deeply personal act of being in her own body. The intimate yet universal rhythms of the body—the flow of breath, the pulsation of blood, the effort and fatigue of muscle—constitute her chief artistic concern. In this exhibition of drawings, paintings and sculpture (all 2010 or ’11), she expanded on her practice through a more adventurous use of material.
Twenty-four drawings on gampi paper (made from bamboo) were pinned loosely to one wall in a gridlike forma- tion. Each approx. 38-by-25-inch sheet bears a rectangle composed of many vertical graphite lines recording the artist’s breaths. The translucent paper subtly responded to the elements in the gallery, reflecting the light and fluttering gently in the passing breezes. From afar, the rows of drawings suggested lines of musical notation—with the rectangles, located at various heights on their respective sheets, serving as notes—evoking a symphony in the quiet space. Closer inspection revealed idio- syncrasies in the seemingly meticulous rectangles. Differences in the pressure and length of the lines speak to the organic process.
The three other walls each held a single white canvas (60 by 52 inches) featuring an accretion of concentric rings, built up from tiny dashes drawn in pencil. Like the breath works, these canvases mark presence, but were created through a more active physical approach. Moving from the middle outward, the artist continually made her way around the surface as she drew her lines, rendering one dashed ring after the next. The resulting forms suggest both cells and planets, microcosm and macrocosm. The circular shape
is echoed in three low floor sculptures (ranging from about 8 by 10 inches to 30 by 39 inches), which marked a pathway through the space. These pieces, made out of carved wood covered in platinum leaf, glowed in the light. The gentle echo of the circles, and the play of light and shadow among them, transformed the gallery into an enigmatic shrine to the cycles of the body and of nature.
Photo: View of Nancy Riegelman’s exhibition, showing an untitled painting, 2011, 24 untitled drawings, 2010, and two “Platinum Tear” sculptures, 2011; at Western Project.