Recently transplanted from Düsseldorf to TriBeCa, Dennis Kimmerich opened his new gallery, Kimmerich, on Thursday, January 14th with a show of paintings by Ivan Morley. Especially bright, with a 16-foot, pressed tin ceiling and hardwood floors, the space is far from Chelsea, in both geography and feel. Kimmerich spent months traversing downtown, block by block, until he found the qualities they were looking for. TriBeCa, with its various architectural styles and mixture of commercial and residential buildings – many of them historic – is perhaps a less homogenous destination than Chelsea. The neighborhood is famously home to many art collectors who can both look and buy close to home. With apexart just around the corner, Kimmerich is well-positioned in a burgeoning gallery neighborhood.
Kimmerich’s ambiance, redolent of a long-gone and much-mythologized SoHo, seems an appropriate setting for the paintings of Ivan Morley, an artist, who, in the past, has likened his work to “souvenirs of a fictional as well as an actual place.” His charged, symbolic images, often layered atop each other, evoke embellished memories and edited nightmares. Of the eight, multimedia paintings – hair, thread and leather sneak their way in – two are on fragmented, asymmetrical canvases, a chaotic, formal alteration to match the content.
The cumulative affect of Morley’s palette is unexpected. Matte and almost chalky, each color, taken on its own, is almost aggressively “classy”; they resemble the muted hues of designer house paint. But when paired, the combination is grimy, like an urban beach: graffitied and littered with trash. Morley outlines his forms with contrasting light and dark, a technique that lends a cartoonish quality to the self-consciously stoner-y images: birds of prey, beer steins, decapitated fat men.
It’s a time-worn fallacy to assume art that appears effortless is, that quick-looking gestures are. Some of Morley’s details seem to move preemptively to counter this assumption, leading one to wonder after Morley’s own assumptions for his audience. Swaths of tooled leather, strands of woven blond hair and patches of embroidery attempt to temper the paintings’ freneticism and immunize them to the charge of sloppiness.
In theory, lines so bold and images so hawkish require the intricacies of craft and delicacy for balance, but in person, the two visions frequently negate each other. Good “bad art” is arguably the most difficult to execute, perhaps the most ineffable of aesthetic talents. Like with any expression of methodical carelessness – artfully messy hair, unbuttoned dinner parties, casual diction – bad art can be very good or very bad. There’s little worse than bad art that strives to be good on its own ground and fails. Morley’s hesitations are what create the queasiness here, as he compensates for a risk he seems unwilling – or perhaps unable – to take.