Reviews

In the Night Kitchen: Aubrey Levinthal’s ‘Refrigerator Paintings’ Chill and Excite the Imagination

January 3–28, the Painting Center, New York

Aubrey Levinthal, Night Fridge, 2016, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND THE PAINTING CENTER

Aubrey Levinthal, Night Fridge, 2016, oil on panel, 9 x 12 inches.

COURTESY THE ARTIST AND THE PAINTING CENTER

Occupying the Painting Center’s pantry-size project room hangs a luminous body of work: Philadelphia-based artist Aubrey Levinthal’s “Refrigerator Paintings.”

With this collection, Levinthal renders errant foodstuffs and tableware—a mug, a banana, a leftover slice of Funfetti cake—in striated layers of navy and pearl accented with daubs of ochre and neon. The artist sometimes scratches the forms directly into the surface of the work, as in Night Fridge (2016), where the rim of a glass seems to emerge from repositioned paint.

The paintings’ quotidian content, fragmented imagery, and color choices make the pieces feel both elusive and earthy. When looking at the works together in the tiny space, the viewer is reminded of not only the bodily activity attendant on a midnight snack—the tiptoeing, rummaging around, and peering into a cold ill-stocked cavity while half-asleep—but also the fluorescent aura and pirouetting shadows cast by a cracked-open refrigerator door.

Aubrey Levinthal, Fridge Closing, 2016, oil on panel, 24 x 24 inches. COURTESY THE ARTIST AND THE PAINTING CENTER

Aubrey Levinthal, Fridge Closing, 2016, oil on panel, 24 x 24 inches.

COURTESY THE ARTIST AND THE PAINTING CENTER

The exhibition, however, is much more than a graceful rendering of everyday experience. There is also humor in the work. For example, in Winter Thoughts (2016) Levinthal renders a figure in contour, staring blankly into an open refrigerator. The woman’s glasses appear to be levitating in the panel’s bottom left corner. The figure could even be Levinthal, but regardless of her identity, as viewers, we assume her vantage point: the melon looks like the wistful conjuring of a grassy knoll, and the fridge’s shelves read as icy boardwalks, not plastic-coated grates.

Obscure visual puns seem to pervade all of the paintings. In Night Fridge, the two three-quarter-filled water glasses seem to resemble twin towers set against a twilight sky. And in Microwave Mug (2015), the porcelain cup framed by a charcoal appliance door finds correspondence with the image of a lone figure, chin-in-hand, set against a backlit window. But, it is in Things I Crave Pregnant and Things I Can’t Have Pregnant (2016) that Levinthal’s humorous pining proves most pronounced. These sculptural works—modeled from painted papier-mâché, suspended by twine—display lumpy facsimiles of food sorted according to the respective titles, “things I crave pregnant” and “things I can’t have pregnant.” The former features a cone of chocolate-dipped strawberry soft serve, a Pop Tart, and a rotten banana. The latter work showcases a can of beer and a cup of joe. Neither, with their chalky surface, looks very appetizing.

But, this makes sense when we realize that “Refrigerator Paintings” isn’t really interested in satiating a physical hunger. Instead, the exhibition points to the uncanny combination of humor and longing sometimes associated with less corporeal desires.

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