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For "Light Matters" at PDX Contemporary Art, Austrian-born, New York-based artist Johannes Girardoni has taken over the main gallery as well as PDX Across the Hall, the space PDX shares with Pulliam Gallery. The split affords Girardoni's work ample room to breathe, but also a clean organizational divide between two distinct bodies of work: minimal sculptures of found wood, thickly coated with radiant primaries and, next door, photographs of billboards, overlaid with obscuring shapes.
That might sound like two distantly related projects, but Girardoni convincingly connects the two bodies through the way they subvert our natural inclinations, as viewers, to perceive depth in the traditional picture plane.
This strategy is most obvious in Girardoni's photographs. Here, the recognizably representational portion of the image -- billboards, drab urban sprawl -- is pushed to the periphery, while flat stretches of color occupy the center.
It's an inversion that cues us to reconcile the difference between the two planes, but frustrates our ability to do so. Is the stretch of paint to be read as a layer, concealing a section of the image beneath? Or is it a kind of void, framed by the peripheral image of the billboard? Such a neither-here-nor-there moment of sensory second-guessing is precisely where Girardoni attempts to steer us.
The artist's sculptures pull a similar trick, especially in the "Colorvoid" series, in which Girardoni applies rich pours of pigment and beeswax to boxlike structures. In "Colorvoid (Trough) -- Titanium White," 2007, a long, five-sided box leans against the gallery wall, like an open casket or an upturned bathtub for a very narrow creature. Peering into the box, which is uniformly coated white, one's sense of depth is destabilized, as the eye fluctuates between a dimensional interpretation and a flat picture plane, in which shadow and spatial contours are flattened as color values.
Girardoni's tension between the concave and the convex is a basic conceit, but his formal rigor and restraint, especially with the sculptures, convey his idea eloquently.
-- John Motley