A transgenerational and intercultural look at abstract painting

A world rich in abundant colors and seductive designs, Color code at Morgan presents embraces the mystery and the expressive possibility of abstraction. Staging a visual dialogue between two artists of different generations – Sam Jablon and Odili Donald Odita – the exhibition is an invitation to reflect on the chemistry between various approaches to abstract painting. The large-scale works are evenly distributed throughout the White Cube Gallery with two on each side wall and one on a floating wall furthest from the entrance. On the other side of the gallery, the painting facing the entrance can be read: “BAD BAD BAD” in yellow paint on a midnight blue cloudy background. The evocation of such pessimism – BAD BAD BAD – is at first disconcerting in an exhibition full of bright and joyful colors. By exploring the other paintings, Color code becomes a puzzle: there are no wall texts, but the press release with QR code includes a checklist. Deducing the artist of each painting is possible by recognizing each artist’s style or following the checklist like a scavenger hunt: the “BAD” text paintings are by Jablon and the geometric rainbow patterns are by Odita.

What then should we think of the meaning, the different colors and the visual impact of each artist’s style? Odita’s two paintings are angular lines that jut out across the canvas to form sharp, neat geometric shapes rendered in deep, earthy tones of brown, blue, and red. A painting by Jablon has a cotton candy colored background with orange letters: “NO BAD DAYS”. The harshness of the word “bad” is softened by the blurry letters and swirling backgrounds, while the sharp angularity of Odita’s paintings lends energetic and colorful works a bold sharpness. Both artists harness the power of abstraction as opacity: the so-called “meaning” of each painting is seemingly impenetrable. Is Jablon trying to manifest a world without wickedness? Or are these days and nights so incessant of evil that this insistence is playful, if not laughable? Likewise, the playful energy of Odita’s contrasting warm and cool colors invites further exploration until we are gently thwarted by the sharp, impassable, crisscrossing lines. At the origin of these works is the question of poetics – pictorial and textual for Jablon, dynamic and multicolored geometry for Odita. Displayed next to each other, the paintings raise questions about the limits and possibilities of abstraction to communicate feelings or ideas through text, color and form.

Installation view of Color code at Morgan Presents, left, Sam Jablon, “NO BAD DAYS”, (2021) oil on canvas, 90 x 80 inches; and on the right, Odili Donald Odita “Power Line” (2003) acrylic on canvas, 84 x 109 inches

As the inaugural exhibition of Morgan Presents, Color code sets the tone for exhibitions that foster an experimental and in-depth dialogue, instead of simply communicating a historical linear art narrative or a curatorial philosophy carefully packaged for commercial purposes. Avoiding didactics such as wall texts and longer exhibition essays, visitors are left to fend for themselves. Such a bold curatorial decision, especially for a brand new gallery, sincerely underlines the importance of transgenerational and intercultural exhibitions where the viewer must make sense of themselves.

Color / Code: Sam Jablon & Odili Donald Odita continues at Morgan Presents (155 Suffolk Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) until November 2.

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Margarita B. Bittner

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