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Elegant Quietude of Samantha Goldstein’s Night gallery

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The brief retrospective of Samantha Goldstein’s work, “Night Gallery,” consists of 20 works, the majority of which were completed in white, unglazed porcelain, with the rest in paper. The exhibition is separated into two sections: the front room holds sinuous, intimate, organic forms, along with four large paper wall pieces; the back displays sets of illuminated plates patterned with direct allusions to the natural world.

The works are then divided into series, each being a study on a specific motif. Indeed, these motifs are the binder for the entire exhibition. Each are elements or forms of nature: the moon, the sun, shells, wind. The show flaunts its inconstancy. The separation serves to bring the works together to form a cohesive conceptual whole. It escapes banality that might have been produced by fielding a show of composed entirely of similar forms with similar motifs.

There is a quiet elegance about the sculptures. The ceramics are formal, pristine, and calculatedly refined, while managing to celebrate a more natural morphology. Especially of note are the “Shell” and “Ephemera” series. The folds in the porcelain of “Ephemera #1” establish an abstractness within a recognizable form (a bowl) that emphasizes fragility, thinness and illusory lightness, which seems to allude to the fleeting crinkled, veined form of a fallen leaf in late autumn.

The piece pays homage to the ceramic tradition and the modern conceptual continuity in the show. Here, however, there arises a puzzling nomenclatural and spatial inconsistency. The decision to put “Ephemera #1” and “Ephemera 2” in a defined series is confusing as is the choice to present “Leaf Paper” as a separate piece. Comparing “Ephemera #1” and “Ephemera #2” yields few similarities in form, and if anything, “Ephemera #2” resembles Leaf Paper more than any other. It’s clear the themes of lightness and fragility are still important, but “Ephemera #2” lacks the folds and creases in “Ephemera #1,”  its form is completely different, and the viewer doesn’t encounter it until the very end of the show (it’s item number 18 versus number 3 for “Ephemera #1”).

“Leaf Paper” has a more appropriate placement, but its unclear as to why it was not included in the Ephemera series. If the motif is ephemerality, and the shared allegorical form is a leaf, it would fit well within the progression as a variation within the set, which is partly what a series of pieces is about. But although the nomenclature and placement within the gallery of these three pieces is a bit baffling, they are among the most beautiful and sensitive in the exhibition. The pieces are so thin that light is able to penetrate through the forms. This lends them a wonderful luminosity and aesthetic grace that evokes the image of looking up towards the sky through a translucent canopy. This naturalism is mirrored in the “Shell” series with its stylized, delicate curvilinear forms and fibrinous lace-like patterns in the interiors.

Highlights of the show were the “Wind Pattern” and moon series. These occupied the back room of the gallery, which as a whole, was the most successful portion of the exhibition. Here Goldstein utilizes backlighting to illuminate their concave interiors and emphasize the relationship between the intangibility of light and tangibility of sculpture. The addition of light invigorates the pieces and adds an entirely new and captivating dimension. While still elegant in their physical quietude, the warmth and glow of the backlighting animates the pieces as the viewer walks by. The surfaces of the moon series, “Eclipse,” “Gibbous” and “Crescent,” twinkle and change, which lends them an exquisite motion and visual presence that arrests and engages the viewer in perspectival interplay. These pieces, although intricate in their decorative density, are simple and restrained. Only the dots, in their multitude, define the overarching image on the façades. Like music, the series of sculptures convey time, harmony and grace, a sensation of timelessness and of beauty.

The “Wind Pattern” series, too, captures this sensation in a way. Each plate is scalloped to form an abstract, fluid pattern on the surface, with each indentation deep enough to allow some of the backlighting to emanate through. The most engaging pieces in this series are “Wind Pattern #1” and “Wind Pattern #3.” Their more random wind patterns defeat the symmetry of the circle in which they are contained and more effectively convey the motion and lightness of wind. Their illuminated designs are reminiscent of the trails a breeze might imprint upon grass on a full moon night. All this imparts a soft, nostalgic quality. The movement of the marks upon the pale porcelain, enveloped in the warm, subdued sentimental light is enrapturing.

More than anything, this exhibition is contemplative in nature. It celebrates the purity of elegant form and substance. The sculptures manifest beauty in their quiet, refined elegance in form and in aura. The sculptures are sensitive, restrained simple forms that in their thoughtfulness and poise provide a compelling aesthetic experience —  beautiful and worth remembering.

 

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