Jacob Kassay: History’s Mirror

Installation View, 2011. Courtesy Art:Concept Paris.


Jacob Kassay shares a studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that has been home to artists including Amy Granat, Steven Parrino, Virginia Overton and Olivier Mosset. Originally rented by the late Parrino twenty years ago, the space is currently the subject of a celebratory group show, “1107 Manahattan Avenue,” on view at Spencer Brownstone [through Oct. 28] and featuring works of harmonious aesthetic by Kassay, Mosset and others. The show takes off from “1107 Studio,” which was organized by Swiss painter Olivier Mosset to include works by artists residing at the eponymous studio, and exhibited at John Gibson Gallery in 1995.

Like his eminent workspace, Kassay’s monochromes experiment with history. “I think that the work I’m doing could’ve been made sixty years ago. Everything I’m working with now was available then,” the artist told A.i.A. “There’s no reason that we can’t go back to the past and rehash ideas that maybe you thought weren’t complete.” One could say that Kassay’s work—the subject of spectacular fascination and a bizarre degree of financial speculation—is so compelling precisely because it recedes from the current moment into an infinite timelessness, challenging the linearity of art history.

In the best-known of Kassay’s paintings, the artist has employed a technique of electro-plated silver over a base of acrylic on canvas, carefully plating only the face of the canvas to retain the work’s identity as a painting. “In the first set of paintings I did, I plated the edges, too-but those appeared to be too sculptural on the wall,” says Kassay. The plating is thin, and magnifies marks; the reflective surface breaks light and exaggerates effects. In doing so, the technique creates a slight bas-relief with sparse brushstrokes in acrylic. Kassay’s strategy for making the work has the air of invention-an effect he does not emphasize. He does, however, align himself very easily with artists that pre-date him by generations: “I was just interested in gestures of absolute transformation of surface, like in Lucio Fontana, or work like that.”

In his 1974 poem “Arriverderci Modernismo,” Carter Ratcliff wrote, “I was dazzled by the mirror with no perspective, no train tracks meeting, no scenery rushing past. The fact that I could see into the mirror from which I was excluded meant to me then that we would be together always.A decade before Kassay was born, Ratcliff asked for modernism to relieve itself of its own imperious reign. Kassay’s work seems to be offering a visual rejoinder, firmly insisting that there was never a real good-bye. “When I think of a lot of people’s idea of progress, I think it is simply to keep people in jobs,” says Kassay. “Which is very important, but it seems like there’s something missing.”

A recent body of work shown at L & M Arts in Los Angeles suggested, in abstraction, a ballet studio. The exhibition featured a silver-plated painting with a ballet bar in front of it, as well as several small white and blush pink monochrome paintings. “It came about from a conversation with a friend who’s doing paintings for an opera in Paris, which is something painters get asked to do after having a very nice career. And I thought, ‘well as a less established painter, I’m probably not going to get asked to do paintings for a theater any time soon, so I’ll make the practice space’.”

The artist found links between ballet and painting. “The word for rehearsal, in French, is the same word for repetition: repetition,” explains Kassay. “And I thought, ‘well that’s interesting. I work in a very repetitive way. All the paintings are the same friggin’ size: perfect.'” The practice bar suggested movement in the space; the artist made himself the choreographer of the chance and incidental movement of gallery visitors reflected in the silver-plated painting.

One venue where Kassay has not been choreographer is in the reporting of the financial aspect of the work. Kassay’s paintings sell on the secondary marker for six figures, and art journalists have spilled a lot of ink, digital and otherwise, reporting this. The attention on the part of journalists to this aspect of his career vexes the artist. “It’s stupid. How boring. What kind of bully does that to a 26-year-old?” Kassay asks.