Smaller is Better in an Exhibition of Paintings at Mana Contemporary and SVA Chelsea
Installation view of “Intimacy in Discourse: Reasonable Sized Paintings” at Mana Contemporary, Jersey City. Courtesy Mana Contemporary and the artists.

Installation view of “Intimacy in Discourse: Reasonable Sized Paintings” at Mana Contemporary, Jersey City. Courtesy Mana Contemporary and the artists.

Bigger is not always better—or so we see in a two-part exhibition of intimately scaled paintings curated by artist, writer, and The Brooklyn Rail co-founder Phong Bui. Titled “Intimacy in Discourse: Reasonable and Unreasonable Sized Paintings,” the exhibition is on view in two parts, at Mana Contemporary in Jersey City and at the School of Visual Arts Chelsea Gallery, both spaces filled by works that the organizers claim can be tucked under one arm.

Bui had Jackson Pollock in mind when he came up with the idea for this exhibition. Though the famous Abstract Expressionist worked mostly at grand scale, he was known to have admired Albert Pinkham Ryder, who managed to convey the monumentality and grandeur of nature in his modestly sized paintings. This led Bui to think about why artists choose to work at a small-scale, the relationship between size and subject matter, and how the size of a work affects viewer reception. All these considerations underlie Bui’s exhibition, which features work by a diverse group of contemporary artists.

Mana Contemporary hosts the first part of “Intimacy in Discourse,” exhibiting paintings by artists who regularly work at a small-scale. Among the works on view is an untitled abstraction by Etel Adnan, who is known for using a palette knife to create warm fields of color on small canvases. In Untitled (2014), she works with greens, blue, and various shades of yellow, laid down in a patchwork of blocky shapes that loosely evoke a seascape or a lakeside. This painting, like her others, is rooted in her memories of the landscapes that she has seen over the course of her life, including those of Lebanon and northern California.

The second part of the exhibition, presented at the School of Visual Arts Chelsea Gallery, features paintings by artists who sometimes depart from working at a larger scale to produce smaller works. Lisa Yuskavage’s Cherry KK (1998) is among the pieces on view and, like her other paintings, it is centered upon a curvaceous female figure. She is set against a blush-colored background, and her white blouse is open, revealing her ample, partially nude figure. Though this painting may be small, like all of the works in this rich exhibition, it makes a big impact.


Karen Kedmey


“Intimacy in Discourse: Reasonable Sized Paintings” is on view at Mana Contemporary, Jersey City, Oct. 18–Dec. 22, 2015.


“Intimacy in Discourse: Unreasonable Sized Paintings” is on view at, SVA Chelsea Gallery, New York, Nov. 21–Dec. 22, 2015.


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