Marta Penter: Floating Time

Exhibitions Caldwell Snyder Gallery

Marta Penter: Floating Time

Oct 6 — Oct 31, 2018

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Marta Penter’s latest work is a series of mid-sized paintings with larger-than-life impact, in which well-groomed, perfectly youthful bodies are bathed in antiseptic splendor. A regal power radiates from the unapproachable beauty of these perfect women in their perfect swimsuits, though they seem to rule over a void. The vacuum of blank space in the lower half of the canvases evokes an ambiguous domain from which these deodorized and depilated beauties have somehow emerged, all of them held together by the monotonous gestures (sociologist Pierre Bourdieu would call it “habitus”) of contemporary hedonism. There they are, bodies from the most diverse regions of the globe, from Brazil to Vietnam, hovering in space, floating on pink or apple green inflatable pool toys, immersed in leisure of metaphysical proportions. Certain details suggest that the setting is a pool at some resort by the sea, everything exuding the atmosphere of constant and compulsory self-representation as transmitted by Facebook, Instagram, and other platforms that beam out images of sublime delight.

Then, suddenly, the sequence of paintings jumps off the rails. In this Olympus of narcissism, in this paradise of inert half-goddesses anaesthetized by overwhelming leisure, Penter refocuses our eye on something more essential in life and art. Two large canvases in subtle grey shades dissolve the previous scenario into abstract forms: the air mattresses become sculptural shapes, volumes transposed into the two-dimensionality of the canvas, emitting mysterious energy. A tense hand hints at the contorted face and body of the person breathing life into the inflatable form; a glimpse of leg suggests some agent behind the abstraction. But even beyond what Penter makes visible, everything we don’t see about these bodies is engaged in a Herculean effort to animate the flaccid, gelatinous indeterminacy of those shapes which grow in our eye and mind. As this drama emerges, the figurative painting disappears; human subjects recede and give way to abstraction and reflection. Away from the glorious resting bodies, there is room to contemplate something more sober and demanding. We enter a dimension that is difficult to name: art in its purity and abstraction, maybe? Or is it the spiritual energy of some immense effort, of the struggle to convey form, to obtain volume and depth and multi-layered texture? It is as if Penter’s passion makes itself present and tangible in these canvases—as if they represent the artist in absentia.

The dry humor in this sequence of images reminds me of the funny lyrics of a song by the Brazilian poet and lyricist Vinicius de Moraes: “Para viver um grande amor, tem que ter peito – peito de remador!” To live a great love, you just need lungs – the lungs of an oarsman!

Marta Penter definitely has the necessary lungs.