How Four Artists Question the Line Between the Gallery and the Street

Artsy Editorial
Jan 23, 2015 11:39PM

Street art today moves far past traditional tagging on the sly, as celebrated stars experiment with nontraditional materials and create work with a cheeky nod to art history and the art establishment.  In the exhibition “TAKE TWO” at Catherine Ahnell Gallery, four artists whose practices move between public and private join together in a group exhibition. Over the course of 2014, each of these artists completed  a month-long residency program, living and working in the gallery; these residencies culminated in solo exhibitions for the artists, but the thematic overlap of their practices spurred the gallery to show their works together.

While all four contributors to “TAKE TWO” bridge the gap between the white cube and street—as well as between chaos and order—the French artists L’Atlas and SAMBRE have backgrounds most rooted in graffiti in the traditional sense. L’Atlas, a street artist since the ’90s who developed a signature style with monochromatic works made of tape, now adds to his oeuvre with similar imagery presented as shaped panels and prints. What upon first glance appear to be purely abstract, labyrinthine forms are actually influenced by topics including Sufism, typography, and international calligraphic practices, informed by the artist’s formal training in archaeology and calligraphy.


SAMBRE, previously a carpenter, combines his graffiti work as part of the Paris “crew” 1984 with his former day job. Drawing from previous projects in which he reimagined abandoned spaces by building hectic site-specific installations of reclaimed wood, SAMBRE repositions the works in a gallery context, pared down to structured wall-hanging works that resemble a recycled minimalism.

The works of Mehdi-Georges Lahlou and Miljan Suknović take a broader conception of what it means to make art in public. Lahlou is an extroverted performer and constant provocateur who draws upon his upbringing with a Catholic mother and a Muslim father in France and Morocco to create multimedia works that remix Western and Islamic cultures. His sculptures, paintings, photographs, and performances reconsider the role of gender, art, and faith, whether he is traipsing miles between galleries in red stilettos as in the past or, as we see here, decorating medieval Christian iconography with Islamic geometric patterns.

Suknović, on the other hand, disconnects from political issues as he paints larger-than-life hallucinogenic abstractions, which become part of their surroundings. Influenced by architecture and the cosmos, his paintings are loose fields of colors, cut or sliced into by stark geometries, often taking the form of gigantic murals that combine aspects of abstract expressionism with a slapdash, adventurous attitude towards color that brighten the public spaces they often occupy.

—K. Sundberg

TAKE TWO” is on view at Catherine Ahnell Gallery, New York, Jan. 14–Feb. 15, 2015.

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Artsy Editorial