The tropes taken up by Peter Peri, a young British artist, are esoteric (cult objects; the career of his Constructivist grandfather) and unlikely (impossible perspectives by way of M.C. Escher). The sum total of these references is nostalgia for a time when eccentricity was a qualifier for artistic genius. There is, in turn, a fetishistic effect to the forms Peri creates, which have expertly rendered surfaces both slick and textured; his depiction of volume and recession is also adeptly controlled.
Peri’s recent show was divided by medium into three distinct bodies of work with overlapping interests and differing levels of efficacy. The graphite drawings shared a magnifying-glass level of detail, with capillary-fine lines like those in works he has shown previously. All are titled as if they were figure studies but depict (with one exception) geometric configurations; tricky trompe-l’oeil perspectives and shading give the elementary shapes an illusion of body and depth. Four of the drawings looked like wooden models or animal traps set weightlessly on plinths. Head 16 (all works 2009) could be a LeWitt grid sculpture reimagined in plywood by a mischievous and finicky child, its perpendiculars rearranged in a way that feels both alarmingly chaotic and sweetly nonsensical. Knot Woman (Reclining) is a strangely rigid, complex pretzel that balances precariously on its plinth, spilling toward the viewer.
A high point was the one figurative drawing, Odalisque, after Ingres’s 1814 painting, done in Peri’s elegant style and reversed as if by mirror (which puts her head on the right side of the image). As a result, the subject seems to experience the same visual disturbance as the scopophilic viewer. Peri further implies that Ingres’s complicated relationship to classical figuration is in a way analogous to our troubled engagement with high Modernist formalism.
The emphasis on draftsmanship that Peri shares with Ingres is evident in his abstract paintings. Peri divides his canvases into geometric sections that seem to be improvisations on de Stijl, but swap out pure color for depth. Polish Doughnut, an arrangement of triangles with various illusionistically recessed areas, bears no evident connection to the sugary treat.Rather, the effect is similar to Frank Stella’s “Polish Village” series, although Peri’s patterning and composition are more regular. Using oil and acrylic, Peri creates a flat but tactile surface, adding a final coat of spray paint that gives the works a glossy patina; one senses a deliberate disjunction between his painstaking attention to detail and the spurt of the spraycan. Vision Remembered Forever is a silver panel with two perspectival vortices in opposite corners. They nearly converge to the right of the panel’s center, where attention is spun and then suspended.
For his sculptures, Peri makes metal casts of geometric objects in his studio—washers, masking tape—and arranges them into cute little figures that sometimes take a reclining pose. They highlight Peri’s interest in art historical periods as precious sources of wonder; compared with the livelier ideas evident in the two-dimensional work, the sculptures are conceptually inert.
Photo: Peter Peri: Head 16, 2009, graphite on paper, 281⁄4 by 231⁄2 inches; at Bortolami.