What does your utopian art gallery space look like? For artist Barry Elkanick, that space is a site of liberation from the everyday. The concept for his latest exhibition Proceed to the Nearest Exit developed in a conversation between Suplex curator Max Fields and Elkanick about untapped, unlimited potential of the space inside a gallery and of Elkanick himself. The solo exhibition opens January 9 at Montrose gallery She Works Flexible.
“[Fields] wanted me to search a little deeper inside myself for an exhibition,” Elkanick says. “I’ve never created an installation or sculpture.”
Using acrylic and house paint, Exit is an installation of paintings and sculpture—namely sets of stairs that Elkanick has been building. Paintings will lean on each step to suggest a spiritual experience of entering into the painting with the existential snap of stairs that lead nowhere.
“I had two titles in mind,” Elkanick says. “One was Enter the Mirror… I wanted to explore scenes of contemplation or reflection, and I wanted to create this subversive environment or absurd environment.”
Elkanick describes today’s average gallery experience as fast. “It’s just you walk into a gallery and you’re just in and out, ”he says. “You can’t really focus, and it’s hard to put a scope on subjective experiences.”
Elkanick’s first career solo exhibition, titled No Nonsense, which premiered in Austin last year, falls into the same kind of thematic aesthetic that moves against the grain of what we expect from galleries. For Exit, Elkanick wanted to push this idea further.
“I wanted to somehow share the personal journey that I experienced through my process,” he says.
Part of his personal journey comes from visits to the Cy Twombly Gallery at the Menil. Elkanick views Twombly’s work as soft and playful, and admires the pinks, reds, and whites that appear in so much of his work.
“Just like the texture and his application is insane,” Elkanick marvels.
Thinking of his earlier work, Elkanick catalogs his work within a similar white-and-pink palette. “I was exploring a more feminine side of myself,” Elkanick says. “And then, after I started messing with different palettes, I realized how Cy Twombly was self-consciously affecting my work.”
Twombly had more than a decade of artistic labor under his belt when the Whitney Museum of American Art first showed his work in the 1967 Annual Exhibition. His own coming-of-age style fell into the genre of abstract expressionism, but it slowly bled out of simple ontologies.
For Elkanick, this exhibition is a turn from Twombly’s influences on him so far, an appropriate breaking away for a show based on pushing the limits.
“I wouldn’t say that my current work is playful,” Elkanick muses. “I would be ok saying my work is soft.”
Jan 9–Feb 9. Suplex Projects, 2619 Arbor St. 832-863-6688. splx.org