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Ned Vena at White Flag Projects

[uds-billboard name=”vena”]The fire door – a staple of crowded, hot, urban apartment buildings, and often the infamous struggling artist dwelling, is typically something of a necessary eyesore. Ned Vena’s solo-show at White Flag Projects consists completely of such large, steel fire doors – the cheapest that will pass code. But Vena has transformed them, with the addition of geometric patterns he terms “paintings,” into something of a minimal masterpiece of calm, serenity, and impressive optical illusion. The effect is a part minimalist, part Op Art, part Surrealist experience within the fittingly pared-down space of White Flag Projects.

Ten doors occupy the gallery space, hinged directly upon the walls, opened at varying degrees, leaving the center of the gallery empty and bare, effectively highlighting the dream-like, unsettling Surrealist scene of a room consisting solely of non-functional doors. The sight is striking, to say the least, even cold at first. But once you make the decision to go ahead and physically enter this world of nothing-but-doors, there are elements of intimacy and creativity. All the doors are the exact same size, brand, type and color. But beyond such basic logistics, the doors offer quite different experiences individually. Upon a closer look, you can see that some have smudged hand prints on the steel, accrued over the course of shipping. These speak to the non-artist, though still human, element present in the work and appearing in some form in most contemporary installation and conceptual art. The artist has left these hand prints where they have occurred, delighting in the elements of randomness in an otherwise heavily controlled piece, ever so slightly referencing the chance aspect of Dada. Other doors have maker’s mark stickers and bar codes on the side, speaking to the conceptual aspects that necessitate and supersede the actual production of an object.

However, the artist’s hand is still strongly present. Each of the doors has exceptionally precise designs directly on it, created through the laying down of thin strips of black adhesive vinyl. Depending on the patterning, varying from stripes to diamonds to squares to a mix of these, some doors are more black than white, while others reveal more of the aforementioned smudges and others none at all, appearing completely geometrically manipulated. Some of the patterns create strong optical illusions, creating the effect of movement for the viewer, in spite of the objects’ solidity, and could be part of some sort of minimalist, Op-Art fun house. Vena, a New-York based artist, calls the doors “paintings,” speaking to his more typical practice of using paints, but also to lead us to a more a critical understanding of the doors. Although steel doors are not a typical canvas and the material used on them are not typical paints, they are directly connected to the history of art in the 20th century, and movements responding to Clement Greenberg’s understanding of Modernism and his call for the essentiality of each medium to respond to its own innate qualities.

In Vena’s show, the doors in the space create a quite beautiful effect that is, upon entry, aloof, but on exit, peacefully escapist, meditative even, in the combination of control and precision with human presence and physicality. On the outside of the gallery, facing the street, hangs a large, white, printed vinyl piece consisting of a black key with the buff torso of a man in place of the top of the key, the key shape accentuated by the way his hands rest behind his head. The key gives a lyrical and even literary quality to the experience about to come upon those who enter, while also expressing the masculinity, precision, and strength of the art and art movements which have influenced Vena and which he continues to expand and cultivate into 21st century critical interests and thematics.

Ned Vena continues at White Flag Projects located at 4568 Manchester Ave, Saint Louis, MO through 7 April 2012. White Flag Projects is open Tuesday-Saturday, 12-5. See for more information.

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