At first glance, Molly Zuckerman-Hartung’s sprawling Anti-Expeditious (pictured, 2011) recalls a fireworks show finale with a thousand ideas going off at once. Look closely at the chaos, though, and a scene emerges. The paint-splattered canvas; carefully arranged CD-Rs, slides and reference photos; and totemlike tower of bricks evoke an artist’s studio. These divergent materials and gestures transfix viewers as Zuckerman-Hartung scatters them like sparks across the canvas, floor and wall.
“The way [my paintings] want to ramble off and become sculptures is really problematic,” the Chicago-based artist says in an exhibition-catalog interview. She adds that she offsets her “more is more” impulse by “constantly checking back with what painting might be” and attempting to at least flirt with its parameters.
Zuckerman-Hartung knows how to pull back. Copy, Cut and Paste (2010) features a few bits of trash affixed to linen, in which she cut a C-shaped incision. It’s a literal interpretation of repetitive gestures we perform on our computers every day. Adjacent to the explosive Anti-Expeditious, this assemblage shows elegant restraint. The artist’s playful literalism also appears when she links two paintings using strips of leather and cut, painted canvas. It’s a clever statement about her abstract work’s tendency to dodge easy classification: “You don’t see the connection? Look; here’s the connection.”
Zuckerman-Hartung plucked the title of “Negative Joy” from a quote by the late artist Mike Kelley, but as she meanders through materials, processes and references, the “paintings” she arrives at feel fresh. The art world’s eyes are already trained on her; the Museum of Contemporary Art opens her “Chicago Works” exhibition in May. Here, she proves she’s ready to hold our gaze.