The show’s two best artists, by my lights, are painters: the Kenyan Chemu Ng’ok, who is based in South Africa, and the Haitian Tomm El-Saieh, who lives in Miami. Each evinces an independent streak that is at odds with the vision of “collectivity” promulgated by the curators...
El-Saieh’s three large acrylic paintings, including one that is eight feet high by twelve feet wide, suggest from a distance speckled veils of atmospheric color, predominantly gray and white, red and blue, or green and yellow. Up close, they reveal thousands of tiny marks, blotches, and erasures, each discretely energetic and decisive. The accumulation mesmerizes. Grasping for its coherence is like trying to breathe under water—which, to your pleasant surprise, as in a dream, you find that you can almost do. In the catalogue, the critic Rob Goyanes writes that El-Saieh has derived inspiration from Haitian traditions of vodou trance-induction and percussive music. That sounds right. Less persuasive is Goyanes’s view that the works “evoke the ghostly symbolic order of late capitalism”—if that even means anything. But something about the present world has proved congenial to this artist’s startling revitalization of abstract painting. There will be more to see and to know of El-Saieh in the near future. He’s a comer.
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