Abstract painting

A transgenerational and intercultural look at abstract painting

A world steeped in abundant color and alluring designs, Color code at Morgan presents embraces the mystery and expressive possibility of abstraction. Staging a visual dialogue between two artists of different generations — Sam Jablon and Odili Donald Odita — the exhibition is an invitation to question the alchemy between various approaches to abstract painting. Large-scale works are spread evenly throughout the White Cube Gallery with two on each side wall and one on a floating wall furthest from the entrance. On the other side of the gallery, the painting facing the entrance is readable: “BAD BAD BAD” painted in yellow on a midnight blue cloudy background. The evocation of such pessimism – BAD BAD BAD – is disconcerting at first in an exhibition full of bright and joyful colors. By exploring the other paintings, Color code becomes an enigma: there are no wall texts, but the QR-code activated press release includes a checklist. Deducing the artist of each painting is possible by recognizing each artist’s style or following the checklist like a treasure hunt: “BAD” text paintings are from Jablon and rainbow geometric patterns are from Odita.

So what about the meaning, the varied colors and the visual impact of each artist’s style? Both of Odita’s paintings are angular lines that jut out from the canvas to form sharp, sharp geometric shapes rendered in deep, earthy tones of brown, blue and red. A painting by Jablon has a cotton candy colored background with orange letters: “NO BAD DAYS”. The harshness of the word “evil” is softened by the blurry letters and swirling backgrounds, while the sharp angularity of Odita’s paintings gives the energetic, colorful works a distinct sharpness. Both artists harness the power of abstraction as opacity: the so-called “meaning” of each painting is seemingly inscrutable. Is Jablon trying to manifest a world without wickedness? Or are these days and nights so endlessly filled with evil that this insistence is playful, even laughable? Likewise, the playful energy of Odita’s contrasting warm and cool colors invites deeper exploration until we are gently blocked by the impassable sharp lines that intersect. At the origin of these works is the question of poetics — pictorial and textual for Jablon, dynamic and multicolored geometry for Odita. Exhibited side by side, the paintings prompt questions about the limits and possibilities of abstraction to communicate feelings or ideas through text, color and form.

Installation view of Color code at Morgan Presents, left, Sam Jablon, “NO BAD DAYS,” (2021) oil on canvas, 90 x 80 inches; and on the right, Odili Donald Odita “Power Line” (2003) acrylic on canvas, 84 x 109 inches

As the inaugural exhibition of Morgan Presents, Color code sets the tone for exhibitions that foster in-depth, experimental dialogue, rather than simply communicating a linear art historical narrative or a carefully packaged curatorial philosophy for commercial gain. Avoiding didactics such as wall texts and longer exhibition essays, visitors are left to their own devices. Such a bold curatorial decision, especially for a brand new gallery, sincerely underlines the importance of transgenerational and intercultural exhibitions where the viewer must make sense of himself.

Colour/Code: Sam Jablon & Odili Donald Odita continues at Morgan Presents (155 Suffolk Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through November 2.