Jacob Kassay Smoke And Mirrors


ICA’s Autumn exhibition of art-market-darling Jacob Kassay, his first in a public gallery.


Review – Jacob Kassay exploded onto the contemporary art scene with surprising force, when a piece priced at auction for $8,000 soared to $86,500. And then, when a similar piece was estimated in the latter bracket, it more than tripled to $290,500.  Yet Jacob Kassay is not a name that those outside of the art market are used to hearing. The major new exhibition of his work at the ICA – his first in a public gallery – should go some way to rectifying this, and place him firmly on the tips of our tongues. 


The reflective silver surfaces of the pieces in the ICA’s lower gallery (created by priming canvases, then soaking them in chemicals and silver paint, finally drying the paint and burning it along the edges) ‘come alive’ with the play of the audience’s reflections. It is this reliance on the viewer that gives the work its description as an interactive installation. There have, of course, been comparisons to Yves Klein and Robert Ryman; however, I am unsure whether Kassay sees himself in this ‘colour-field’ (pun intended). Rather than an exercise in the creation of an unbroken plane of colour, Kassay utilises the reflection of his audience as brushstrokes, and, in this play of light, the work is perhaps better compared with the likes of Turner.


These mirror pieces are mounted on wooden screen structures that are supposed to combine them all into a larger composite installation. This is not immediately obvious, as these partitions are too easily misread as temporary walls common to any exhibition. But perhaps this is an attempt by Kassay to free them from their status as individual, very expensive, paintings – the prices of which seem to precede any discussion of their artistic worth.


In the upper gallery, Kassay’s installation is again interactive, this time in conversation with the existing architecture of the space, with the curving canvases echoing the cornices in a paired down play on the ornate, which (like the silver works of the lower gallery) reflect and abstract their context. On the opening night, the avant-garde and minimalist composer/ guitarist/trumpet player Rhys Chatham treated us to a live soundscape to accompany the upper gallery exhibit. This multiple layering of looped trumpet added to Kassay’s apparent attempts to constantly interact with both space and spectator.


Of course, Kassay’s work is so minimal that it can be difficult to deduce the artist’s intentions. But, as Chatham put it as he began his performance; ‘sometimes simple ideas are best’.


Words/ Photo Ishbel Mull © 2011 ArtLyst

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