Tandem focus on interiors devoid of humans, by Leslie Kerby and Michelle Weinberg at Project: ARTSpace

Artblog returning contributor, Elizabeth Johnson, reviews a New York exhibit inspired by pandemic isolation and its impact on the human need to connect. Drawings by two collaborating artists, Leslie Kerby and Michelle Weinberg, focus on the emotions raised in depictions of familiar interiors in which no humans appear. The show is up at Project: ARTSpace through June 17, 2022.

Three large works on paper hanging on one wall, two butting up directly next to one another, the third about a foot away, featuring abstractions and renderings of pictures in picture frames, framed drawings within the drawing, and geometric shapes with varying colorful patterns.
Installation view, “Shuffling Liminal Episodes: works by Leslie Kerby and Michelle Weinberg.” Courtesy the artists.

Two installations at Project: ARTspace feature drawings and paintings that express the human necessity for daily contact, gossip, and stories, by paradoxically featuring empty private and public spaces. A collaboration between artist/curators Leslie Kerby and Michelle Weinberg, Shuffling Liminal Episodes elicits nettlesome questions about contemporary life, underscoring the fact that socialization underpins an artist’s ability to make, show, and sell work.

Current with the pandemic, Kerby’s and Weinberg’s small, wistful images of interiors and exterior spaces supplant in-person socializing with unique, mild voyeurism of other people’s spaces. The depopulated homes, offices, parks, and stores engage the imagination, their charm arising in part from our awareness of their consolation as substitutes. We may not be in the company of friends and strangers, but we make do with the next best thing: evidence of other people’s living habits. Now that COVID may be waning and people are circulating again, Shuffling Liminal Episodes plays a second role, that of, let’s say, a Martian asking us to reflect on the last two and a half years of solitude: What becomes of the urge to continue isolating? What if I you enjoy being anonymous behind your mask? Will you ever feel at home in an empty house or in a crowd again?

Excerpts of Denise Delgado’s novel-in-progress, Inheritance, appear in the exhibition catalogue. Her narrator Valentina, echoing people displaced during Covid, returns home during political unrest in a foreign country. She hires laborers to build a staircase in a temporary home in her mother’s decaying warehouse studio, but the underfunded work collapses. Snippets of the doomed construction are interlaced with moments of hope, Valentina looking “in other people’s windows with such longing, craving…,” and her feeling “as though this new life here isn’t real.”

Mixed media framed work on paper of the exterior of a barber shop and the building adjacent to it; the barber shop sign says "Clean Cut DOMINIO/ BARBER"; there is a traffic cone in front of the barber shop window as well as a police barricade; in front of the adjacent building is a camping chair next to another traffic cone.
Lesie Kerby, “Gowanus I,” watercolor, acrylic, graphite, and paper collage on denril vellum, 10×10. Courtesy the artist.

During quarantine, Leslie Kerby solicited her friends for pictures of their homes and workplaces that made them happy, from which she made watercolor, acrylic, and graphite collage paintings on Denril vellum. Working on the back and front sides, she exploited the paper’s transparency by layering collage elements, drawing, and color. Assiduously detailed drawings of books, art, desktop accessories, bikes, chairs, plants, and musical instruments hover between the layers in a straightforward fashion. It seems normal that the occupants are absent, like they have left the room for a moment, their presence registering as gracious but invisible hosts.

Gracious in return, Kerby’s “Back Mountain” painting depicts couches abandoned by the side of the road in Tennessee; “Magic” shares her discovery of a “caterpillar” made of tires in Long Island, and “Gowanus I and II” present construction sites as cozy and intimate.

Michelle Weinberg takes a surrealist approach to questions about inhabiting physical space by using generic or commercial tropes. Suggesting familiarity at a remove, her small graphite and colored pencil drawings abstract anonymous spaces or storefronts with pattern, mysterious verbiage, and common furniture and products. Her piece “Home Economics” gathers scraps and clues under the banner of a Family Dollar Store sign, but a framing device shortens the message to Family Dolar, evoking dolor, Spanish for sadness. ‘Diana’ and ’99 cents’ written on crumpled paper, ‘Joy’ on a bottle of dish soap, and ‘All Rite’ as window display plant ambiguous red herrings. Operating as a stage set for randomly occurring mental furniture, Weinberg’s witticisms strike a perfect balance with the sincerity of Kerby’s work. Sympatico pairings of the two artists’ work reveal similarities between Kerby and Weinberg’s subject matter, but a divergence in their depiction of space and narrative.

Set of two drawings on paper framed next to one another, both depicting the exterior of a dollar store, with the sign visible but split between the two drawings- reading, left: "FAMILY D"; right: "OLR"
Michelle Weinberg, “Home Economics,” graphite and colored pencil on paper, 12×18. Courtesy the artist.

As a team challenge, each artist created an installation using giant rolls of paper on separate walls to contextualize smaller works. On Kerby’s wall, the hand-written letters GRUNGYBENEGRUNGYBEN run like a mirrored ticker tape across the paper panels, expressing rapid change between bad and good. Softened by charcoal smudges and decorated with images of a life-size yardstick, a pencil, eraser, black holes, and a calendar, Weinberg’s installation welcomes all comers like a Disney cartoon. Her installation hosts Kerby’s drawings in harmonizing color zones.

A paradox, Leslie Kerby and Michelle Weinberg’s Shuffling Liminal Episodes seems to eavesdrop on a conversation between opposites talking about being alone. Their methods for linking space to narrative express perennial emotions that extend beyond current social interruption.

Project: ARTspace, a noncommercial gallery in midtown Manhattan, is an experiment in hospitality. Since 2011, Michael Yi, managing partner of a law firm, has generously provided curators and artists with funds and space.

Shuffling Liminal Episodes: works by Leslie Kerby and Michelle Weinberg” – through June 17, 2022 at Project: ARTspace, 99 Madison Ave., 8th floor, New York, NY 10016. Gallery hours: Monday-Friday, 11AM-5PM. Contact: 212-271-0664. Exhibition catalogue contributions by Denise Delgado.