In 2005, Nick Mauss (b. 1980) was catapulted into the permanent collection of MoMA with its acquisition of over 40 drawings by him, part of the Judith Rothschild Foundation Contemporary Drawings Collection Gift. They are early works, dating to 2003-04, mostly executed on marbled paper, and represent prodigious flights of youthful fancy. Colors explode and dissolve free of the restraint of form, flourishing with Kandinsky-like exuberance. Mauss’s latest work, in marked contrast, is an exercise in finding visual expression for silence. In addition to a new series of small silver paintings on panel, his installation at 303 included three large-scale works—Pavilion, Insert and Occasion—each a paragon of fragile strength. For example, Insert stands 9 feet tall and 10 feet wide, and is composed of a simple rectilinear white wood structure supporting a giant sheet of white paper through which an irregular shape has been torn, as though someone had walked through it.
Mauss began the large group of silver paintings (all 2009) that were the core of the recent exhibition after an intense period of drawing, and they are finely balanced between the two mediums. He casts the humble line as the solitary actor, confronting the representational capacity of painting in much the same way that Jasper Johns does with unmediated gray. But Mauss’s silver panels are less paintings about paintings than are Johns’s, and are more elemental in their studies of light and dark. Working with a severely restricted palette, Mauss manages to convey everything from utter flatness to convincing depth, from nebulousness to palpable forms such as the central vertical figure in figure in a loom.
Before laying down the aluminum leaf that doubles for silver and resists tarnishing, Mauss covers the wooden panels with a black acrylic ground. Using a range of techniques, from rubbing and rasping to stenciling, he creates palimpsests in which each mark is recorded, lost and reinscribed. In their simplicity, the silver paintings are reminiscent of those children’s plastic tablets on which one can record a thought or a drawing and just as easily erase it. At the same time, their shiny surfaces prompt the viewer to look from multiple angles, as if staring at the dance of light on moving water. Mauss’s delicacy recalls a similar quality in the work of Paul Klee, who so often conveyed a sense of pleasure in creation.
Photo: Nick Mauss: silent adjustments, 2009, mixed mediums on panel, 193⁄4 by 153⁄4 inches; at 303.