New Angles on Geometry

Published May 9, 1991 by Nancy Stapen

From skyscrapers to the ubiquitous black box, geometric units are such an intrinsic part of our experience, we hardly give them a moment's thought. But these primary organizers of space - in both the natural and manmade worlds - are the traditional building blocks of artists. The minimalism of the '60s, which venerated reduced geometric form at the expense of all embellishment, represents something of an apotheosis of this tendency; it remains a touchstone for many artists today.

In Ilana Manolson's oil paintings, geometric units, which usually symbolize stability, are erupted and imploded. Order, or the lack of it, is the subject here; the word crops up repeatedly in titles such as “Order on the Rebound I”, “Out of Order," etc. Spheres pop out of cubes like crazed jack-in-the-boxes; brushy swirls of paint rushing in and around these forms suggest wind, fire and floods. The palette is a combative mix of fiery yellows and reds and acid greens, underscoring the hyperactive ambience. This is dearly a world where the center no longer holds.

A second series dealing with entropy presents geometric forms at rest. Painted in black and white, they suggest the middle ground between freneticism and inactivity.

Manolson upends our notion of geometry as a soothing, harmonious means of structuring experience. Instead, she offers a formal equivalent for a society veering out of control, where geometric icons of classicism are merely s finger in the darn of cataclysmic chaos and fragmentation.