“Andrew Kuo: You Say Tomato,” the artist’s debut show with New York’s Marlborough Chelsea (through May 4), takes its name from the immortal Gershwin tune “Let’s Call the Whole Thing Off.” The 11 acrylic paintings on view reveal the Queens-born Kuo to be a master craftsman of Euclidian geometry, a charmer of pigment and a doyenne of merciless self-reflection.
Kuo debuted his wildly popular chromatic diagrams of emotions on his blog in 2006. They first arose from expression of a personal nature, the artist explained in a phone interview with A.i.A. this week; the first of his abstractions was a thank-you note in the form of a pyramid chart. These works map the hazy contours of subjectivity with disciplined geometric arrangements, rendered in a rainbow of hues.
Legends at the bottom of these diagrams reveal that the origami-like precision of the shapes, which conjure up nested starbursts and eternally unfolding books, chart specific emotional dramas. Each color is keyed to a tweet-length phrase, ranging from reminiscences of broken relationships to sophomoric observations about the similarity of a computer’s hum to the sound of the sea. The link to Twitter is not accidental. Kuo finds that the site offers the opportunity to capture thoughts and feelings effortlessly. For Kuo, Twitter is “the same as texting myself.”
Among the works in the exhibition is If I Wasn’t Sick on 1/11/13 (2013). A legend links shapes to a temporal progression, from left to right, from a day’s start to its end. Colors map what Kuo “would have done” had he not been ill. Those unrealized tasks include quirky introspection, valuations of magical life lessons, social gaffes and self-flagellating trips down memory lane. The latter could hardly be otherwise, given that Kuo, when asked what worried him, responded instantly, “Everything. Every single thing.”
These paintings amount to a fantasy of quantifying and eternalizing emotions while spatializing time. This is an amusing play of oppositions. “You Say Tomato” also offered four canvases of a quite different nature, including Flowers (Stripes), 2013. This work features an anemic bouquet of flowers, the drugstore provenance of which is attested to by a lazy, single-stroke white curve that evokes a kitschy faux-lace hem on a plastic wrapper.
The representational paintings on view in “You Say Tomato” seem the product of an artistic impulse that remains inchoate, though it might have potential. In any case, they were of less interest to the Pabst Blue Ribbon-swilling crowd at the exhibition’s opening Thursday night, who thronged in front of Kuo’s chromatic diagrams. This wouldn’t be so bad, but those works have limits. Once marveling over shapes and colors is over, it is impossible to ignore that they crystallize the very worst aspects of the Twitterverse. Solipsistic patter doesn’t qualify as artistic insight. That Kuo’s diagrams are so popular is an unflattering index of contemporary culture’s endless appetite for empty voyeurism.
PHOTO: If I Wasn’t Sick on 1/11/13, 2013, acrylic and carbon transfer on panel and laminated paper, 51 by 38 inches.