Mokha Laget’s Polychrome Polygons at David Richard Gallery in New York City
June 10 through July 13, 2019
I look for exciting ways to solve problems of 2-D space by creating 3-D ambiguity in which the physical dimension of the object becomes a vehicle for perceptual experience.—the artist’s statement, https://www.davidrichardgallery.com/Mokha-Laget.cfm?ArtistsID=1202
Seldom Still, Acrylic and flashe on shaped canvas, 2019, 40 x 63 x 2 inches. Courtesy the gallery
We live in a universe with three dimensions of space and one of time. Up, down, left, right, forward, back, past, future. 3+1 dimensions. Or so our primitive Pleistocene-evolved brains find it useful to believe. And we cling to this intuition, even as physics shows us that this view of reality may be only a very narrow perception. PBS Space Time, “The Holographic Universe Explained” https://www.pbs.org/video/the-holographic-universe-explained-urhkpc/
Mokha Laget’s Polychrome Polygon paintings have an effect on me that is similar to what happens when I consider the universe-as-hologram theory of physics. I barely understand the latter discursively; that is, I cannot think my way through the thesis with my verbally oriented brain. Lacking the mathematic and analytic vocabularies necessary to understand hologram theory, still I get it on a deep level. Some part of me—an ancestral knowledge encoded in our collective DNA?—accepts that, of course, the world as we experience it is not necessarily real. That three-dimensionality is an illusion in which information only exists on two planes is the basic principle of hologram theory.
This puts me in mind of Clement Greenberg’s theory of modern abstract painting, that it is a two-dimensional surface which should never attempt to represent three dimensions. Greenberg initially proposed his ideas in order to explain the success of Jackson Pollack’s monumental all-over canvases. Dimensionality, crowed Greenberg, was for sculpture. In our postmodern era, such rules seem outdated to many of us, but there remain plenty of fans of Modernism and its emphasis on formalism who surely will not agree with the assessment that we are “over” the formal tenets of painting, not least Greenbergian formalism.
In the 1950s, Greenberg became a big proponent of the Washington Color School, claiming it as the theoretical pinnacle of what he termed “post-painterly abstraction.” Gene Davis, with his striped canvases, was a member of this School that advocated for hard edges and bright colors; Laget worked as an assistant to Davis during her art-school days at Corcoran College in DC. Her current exhibition of shaped canvases continues to reflect her abiding interest in such formalist issues as the tension between edge and plane in paintings, and her profound grasp of color theory. Yet, as she herself is certain, Greenberg would be appalled at how Laget attracts, confounds, and refuses us easy visual access through her use of dimensional, or shaped, canvases. What her canvases say to me, on first glance, is, “Come, see how beautiful I am! Glory in the colors and crispness on display.” Then, as if in some kind of a warping of the Matrix, I find myself uneasily contemplating the possibility that these canvases are not flat. Right? It’s an “are you seeing what I’m seeing?” moment that tests our grasp of spatial reality.
In the early twentieth century, art and science collided, and colluded, with the discovery that solid matter consists of tiny bits of energy that whiz in tandem, creating the illusion of the materiality of, say, a table. In 1911, Cubism, faced with the fact of atomic particles, fractured that illusion further, and flattened three dimensions back to an unrecognizable two. Gone was the regulation one-point perspective that had been revered since the Renaissance. Looking at paintings by Picasso and Braque, it seemed that time and space had collapsed within each other. Now, with hologram theory, I have a sneaking suspicion that we may find ourselves on the brink of a black hole, if not all the way inside of it where nothing can exist. Yet here we are! Thank goodness we have the elusive elegance of Laget’s polygons to contemplate as we spin through various iterations of reality.