Hiding in Plain Sight
To understand Pace Gallery’s “Hiding in Plain Sight,” a thematic group show curated by the gallery’s own Andria Hickey, look no further than Tony Lewis’s tempestuous, generously-named sculptural drawing, ..if it does finally come to a confrontation...then we will fight the issue...not only in the Cambridge Union, but we will fight it as you were once recently called to do on beaches and on hills, on mountains and on landing grounds. And we will be convinced that just as you won the war against a particular threat to civilization, you were nevertheless waging a war in favor of and for the benefit of Germans, your own enemies, just as we are convinced that if it should ever come to that kind of a confrontation, our own determination to win the struggle will be a determination to wage a war not only for Whites but also for Negroes (2021). The long title is just an excerpt from racist commentator and National Review founder William Buckley’s argument against author James Baldwin during their 1965 debate about the problematic implications of the American Dream for the Black experience.
The eighteen-artist exhibition, which also features Torkwase Dyson, Aria Dean, Walid Raad, Fred Wilson and Hito Steryl, recalls the gallery’s previous large-scale endeavors, such as 2016’s “Blackness in Abstraction,” organized by Adrienne Edwards, with its approach to a poeticism of abstraction. Hickey, at a walkthrough, explained the show’s premise as “archeology of information through distilling the abstract form.” Lewis’s massive gesture of raw pigment graphite, rubber bands, and screws does exactly so. The wall-covering black mark embodies the Cambridge Union debate between Baldwin and Buckley, which ended with the former’s win with 540 votes over the latter’s 160. The form Lewis chose to blow up signifies the word “William” as inscribed by a stenographer. Shorthanded and arbitrary, the rapid impression is monumentalized through the intense process of repeatedly stretching countless rubber bands between screws that puncture the graphite-washed wall. The horizontal three dimensional drawing, which Lewis built directly into the wall over a few days with surgical precision, conveys the looseness of a hand gesture over paper. The elastic tension among the screws echoes that of the debate’s, which bitterly transcends to the present.
The Chicago-based Lewis has been mining variously-sourced texts—from Calvin and Hobbs comics to this very debate—transforming ingrained and oftentimes overlooked meanings to massive abstractions. Similar to dissected pixels of an enlarged digital image, Lewis renders his original content unrecognizable yet magnifies the message, which in many cases hides in plain sight. Seeing the work hung across from Etel Adnan’s two smaller sun-drenched homesick vistas, both Untitled (2017) [one pictured], is a refreshing juxtaposition on hope and resilience, one that contrasts in color and unites in potential of abstraction and vastness of form. Stormy or serene, these landscapes may hide their stories but at the horizon, something is revealed. —Osman Can Yerebakan
Etel Adnan, Untitled, 2017. Oil on canvas, 33 x 24 cm. Courtesy of the artist & Sfeir-Semler Gallery,