Russell Maltz in Same Difference, The Art Museum at the University of Kentucky, Lexington, KY

Russell Maltz, Installation view at Alejandra von Hartz Gallery, Miami, FL

Installation view at Russell Maltz: Painted/Stacked
Alejandra von Hartz Gallery, Miami, FL, 2014

January 24 – April 12, 2015

The three artists in this exhibition are dedicated studio practitioners, each operating between drawing, painting, and sculpture, and using strategies of theme and variation. Their works are often finalized at the gallery, where elements are variously stacked, clustered, and dispersed, exemplifying a commitment to process as well as product. For Same Difference, Michelle Grabner, Simone Leigh, and Russell Maltz present installations that take advantage of the Museum’s architecture, especially the wooden floor and soaring ceiling height. Raw and fired clay, plywood, metal studs, paint, and canvas are celebrated for their inherent materiality while being transformed into works that extend several art historical traditions including Suprematism, Constructivism, Minimalism, and Arte Povera.

Grabner’s abstract paintings are grounded in the real world, often taking their cues from handmade or store-bought blankets, tablecloths, and quilts. She mines vernacular traditions for geometric patterns and templates that she can use, extending the options from contemporary art-making while honoring the labor-intensive activities of everyday folk. Her recent paintings accumulate lines and shapes that are the result of pushing glossy enamel paint through crocheted baby blankets. Textured and illusionistic, these canvases have a homey elegance and spatial depth in keeping with the visual grammar of artists like Eva Hesse, Frank Stella, and Robert Ryman. Grabner is also an acclaimed curator and educator, and her status as a multitasker informs all of her activities.

Leigh’s works are known for their intense physicality, and she is adept at forming and firing ceramics that range from the ornamental to the ominous. She consistently investigates African and African American histories and the female body as a repository of lived experience. At UK, she creates a gravel garden with “cowrie shell” sculptures that feature stunningly glazed surfaces with jagged openings. Leigh’s videos often claim women from popular culture, including Zira from Planet of the Apes and Lieutenant Uhura from Star Trek. Here, she presents a short clip from the 1960s-1970s television show Julia, featuring Diahann Carroll as a nurse. In combination, her hand-made objects and found footage create a meditation on identity, labor, and beauty.

Maltz uses a range of industrial materials as his palette, creating singular and multi-part works that alert audiences to the nature of creating—making choices about content, context, color, scale, density, gravity, and sequence. His recent paintings feature plywood sections that are covered in Day-Glo paint and overlaid on top of each other, then suspended from steel posts on the wall; referencing Kazimir Malevich’s infamous 1915 Black Square and continuing the evolution of the monochrome into the twenty-first century. Maltz’s manipulation of “off the shelf” items connects the world of the contractor with the ideas and aesthetics of the art world, examining complex states of entropy, assembly, and permanence. Same Difference is meant to highlight the aspects of consistency and mutability that each artist is known for, as well as making connections between their distinct productions.