Painterly relief constructs by Audrey Goldstein in her show “Intimate Toxicities,” on view through June 10 at Gallery Kayafas in Boston’s SoWa District, build upon benchmarks in contemporary art, creating a dialogue of continuum. Her “Conversation Quilt” has kinship with Robert Rauschenberg’s combine sensibility notably “Ram” (1959) and “Interloper” (1982). Goldstein’s approach toward poetic balance, roaming exploration of quintessential American landscape and the world, relates to his thinking, but a difference is Goldstein’s aesthetic lens is trained on recent global ecological disturbances dramatically re-shaping the ideal.
The centerpiece of Goldstein’s show, “Conversation Quilt,” is her largest combine and is presented in a dedicated exhibition room at Gallery Kayafas. Physically attached to the wall, it has a large protuberance of quilted unbleached muslin that pushes out onto the gallery’s floor space like a cloven hoof. Furthermore, it suggests bifurcated geography, and has been splayed by the artist to rest on a gathering of six low benches. Goldstein’s premise in “Conversation Quilt” is that it’s participatory. The audience is welcome to sit down on the low benches which face each other, with the quilt draped over their laps.
As tableaux, this makes a quilting-bee configuration encouraging conversation. The artist provides vellum paper tags looped with string for people to write down thoughts conjured by the experience. Participants are asked to attach their tags to the quilt, an action evocative of Yoko Ono’s “Wish Tree” except that Goldstein’s “Conversation Quilt” has a Freudian edge. Among the slips of attached papers someone commented: “It feels like being on a boat with friends because of how close the chairs are…the quilt made us all feel closer together.” Another tag read: “It feels like I am in a boat, and I like every person in it except one” — an observation that hints at emotional unrest indicative of the times.
Aesthetically, Goldstein’s art merges micro and macro ideas about form and space to highlight both body and place identification. Her micro exploration starts with mulberry paper worked as Papier–mâché, that grows into macro context with information build-up extracted from satellite photographs that document forest fires, drought events, and the effects of torrential rains across our planet. It’s obvious that in developing her work, the artist has switched sightlines, changed perspective, and gone off-grid to incorporate armatures, building abstract narratives inclusive of the architectural footprints of dwellings consumed by natural disaster, and the clothing in dishabille that she imagines left behind. Goldstein also incorporates the material of felt, tapping into a medium inexorably synonymous with Joseph Beuy’s explorations of comfort, repair, survival, and the mysticism of belonging.
“Conversation Quilt” and smaller combines such as “Golden Sweater” and “Mustard Sweater” have crocheted sections, a technique in alignment with Sheila Pepe’s work. The Papier–mâché mentioned earlier conjures Debra Weisberg’s sculpture sensibility.
Color choices for “Intimate Toxicities” relates corporeal and earthly connection with a palette of raw sienna, burnt umber, terre-verte and spirulina-like greens, mustardy yellows, and blood red. Then, creams, white and black provide the counterpoint in Goldstein’s compositions. Because she wanted the blackest black to establish a kind of infinite depth, she uses Black 3.0 developed by Stewart Semple. Black 3.0 is sort of a facsimile of Anish Kapoor’s “Vantablack” and is sold by Semple through his Culture Hustle art store in the United Kingdom. Goldstein uses it to create areas of extreme spatial absence, which enhances the effectiveness of her work.
Audrey Goldstein plies the language of contemporary art. its influences and advancements, for resources to make art that is uniquely confident and complex. Although her work refers to ecological tipping point, ultimately it reads as optimistic, because its messaging coaxes participation as a remedy.
(Audrey Goldstein’s “Intimate Toxicities” is on view through June 10 atGallery Kayafas, 37 Thayer at 450 Harrison Ave., Boston, Massachusetts. Goldstein will be in the gallery for Quilt Conversations on May 20 and 31 and June 3 from 1-3 p.m. The gallery is open Wednesday through Saturday from 11 a.m.-5:30 p.m. and will hold a “closing reception” for its current exhibitions on Friday, June 2. For more information, visit gallerykayafas.com or call (617) 482-0411.)