The works in “Downtown Is A Construct,” Nate Lowman’s third solo exhibition at Massimo De Carlo in London, derive from one of the few sections of his Tribeca loft studio (a weathered civic landmark building at the furthest mid-eastern border of the East Tribeca Historic District) not in perpetual use for painting, cleaning, storage, or planning: the ceiling.
Conveying exposed wires, pipes, and modern track lighting that overlaps the 19th century decorative tin ceiling tiles (another historic fireproofing measure and popular lowcost American design innovation that served as a fashionable alternative to the costly Victorian ornamental plaster ceilings of the time), the images are grainy and high contrast, rendered in black dots that look as if they had been printed rather than painted onto the white linen surfaces. Some works depict the ceiling at an illusionistic 1:1 ratio and many are large enough to activate a type of spatial perception more often associated with sculpture – or architecture – than contemporary painting. Although faithfully rendered with perfect, photographic (albeit low-resolution) execution, the images remain spectral and contingent. With their delicate, unprimed linen supports and painted dot technique that leaves the canvas as full of negative space as with paint, they resonate with the frequency of gaps. The rampant development that endlessly consumes and reconfigures Manhattan is stalled by historic preservation, resulting in pockets of untapped value in a city that compulsively maximizes profit across every inch of time and space. Anomalously, tendentiously halting the march of time and the redistribution of space along the lines of the highest bottom line, the negative spaces of Manhattan serve an alien purposelessness in this most purposeful of cities.