‘In What Distant Deeps or Skies’: Lu Magnus Summer Show Mines Blake’s ‘Tyger’

Courtesy the artist and Lu Magnus
Courtesy the artist and Lu Magnus
Courtesy the artist and Lu Magnus
Courtesy the artist and Lu Magnus
Courtesy the artist and Lu Magnus

The literary world has been flooding into the art world in myriad ways lately. Gagosian is publishing James Frey, and Ed Ruscha is finding fruitful material in Kerouac’s On the Road. Perhaps the most recent example is Lu Magnus gallery’s current show, “In What Distant Deeps or Skies,” the title of which is taken from William Blake’s “The Tyger,” and is part of the first batch of summer group shows that opened earlier this month on the Lower East Side. It features the work of Fawad Khan, Jonathan Allen, Tofer Chin and Emily Noelle Lambert.

But perhaps a more appropriate epigraph would have been, “And what shoulder, and what art, / Could twist the sinews of thy heart?” The answer laid in what hung on the walls and, in one instance, what protruded from them.

The work of Mr. Chin, a 33-year-old Santa Monica native, is among the show’s strongest offerings. His brand of meticulous Minimalism betrays his heritage—both his father and uncle are surgeons. The precision of his arresting, handmade works makes a bold statement. The gallery constructed an all-white room off the main floor for his 23 White Stalagmites (Aerial View): angular white cones of varying size are wall-mounted and front-lit—bands of carefully concealed florescent lights give the room its frigid brilliance and immerse the viewer in the work. When seen in this private showroom, with its careful lighting, one gets the impression of an aerial view of the work. Caution: staring too long might cause vertigo (but good luck pulling yourself away). His 31 White Lines on Black exhibits the same deft craftsmanship: thin, white lines overlap in a geometric patten that forms a web against the black background. Mr. Chin uses spray paint to create a subtle gradient, blending the brushstrokes and giving them a certain glow that stands out against the severe, formal elements of the work.

Hanging on the opposite wall is Jonathan Allen’s Moving On, which also incorporates spray paint to great effect. Like blueprints littered with cultural detritus, Mr. Allen’s collages appear to be what would happen if structures could speak. In Behemoth, he reconstructs architect Moshe Safdie’s Habitat 67—a striking apartment complex in Montreal, Canada—incorporating his trademark newspaper clippings. Mr. Allen’s wife, dancer Joanna Kotze, with whom he has collaborated on performance pieces, studied architecture as an undergraduate and, like a true bricoler, he pulls from all spheres when creating his art. Broaching the architectural as well is Emily Noelle Lambert, whose totem poles are a kind of raw sculptural assemblage that provide the foil to Mr. Chin’s stark stalagmites.

And then there’s Fawad Khan, who is perhaps the lynchpin of a trio formed along with Mr. Chin and Mr. Allen. Mr. Khan responded to “The Tyger” in a flurry of inspiration, and his two-panel Of Lions, Lambs, and Valleys, like the pages of a book, opens up onto a vast landscape of deconstructed camouflaged soldiers that mirror the repetition in Blake’s poem.

“In What Distant Deeps or Skies” is an excellent example of how a keen curatorial eye is able to achieve a unified vision, and credit is due to young gallerists Amelia Abdullahsani and Lauren Scott Miller, who pull together a diverse group of artists unified by their ability to bridge fields, from the page to artworks and back again.

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