A  purple mass floats with hands raised; a figure reclines on a chez lounge filing nails, while another sits on a golden chair, arms crossed and donning a red hat. These are a few scenes from the new billboard series, Walls for a Cause NYC, presented in collaboration with Orange Barrel Media, who last year organized “Art for Action,” featuring digital billboards in 16 cities to encourage voter participation in the 2020 election. Curated by Jeonna Bellorado-Samuels and Diana Nawi, the works are also being exhibited virtually via the gallery We Buy Gold, as part of On the Other Side of Something through March 24th.

Chioma Ebinama, (L to R) “Portrait of my beloved as an orchid” (2020), watercolor on handmade Indian recycled cotton rag paper, 9 x 10 1/2 inches; “Lovers” (2020), watercolor and sumi ink on handmade Indian recycled cotton rag paper, 6 1/2 x 6 1/4 inches; “Hugging Party” (2020), watercolor on handmade Indian recycled cotton rag paper, 8 x 9 inches; “Lovers in the Grove” (2020), watercolor on handmade Indian recycled cotton rag paper, 6 x 6 1/2 inches (all works courtesy Fortnight Institute; artwork images by Chioma Ebinama; install photo by Orange Barrel Media)

Showcasing work by figurative and abstract painters, the installations again upend the often-commercial space of the billboard, conjuring public projects by Felix Gonzalez-Torres and For Freedoms. In our pandemic context, it presents a safer opportunity for art viewing. The seamless online presentation includes large images of the billboards, along with documentation of their installation sites, capturing passing traffic and immersive viewing angles.

This dual presentation permits access to both the large-scale presence and material details of the work,  like Marcus Jahmal’s expressive brushstrokes in “Ocean interior” (2020) akin to those of Henry Taylor’s large-scale figures. One can zoom in on the layered collages of Maria Berrio’s citrus tree in “Miracles of Ordinary Light”  and Christopher Myers’s “My Body is a Burning House” (both 2020), as well as the flowing watercolors that enliven Chioma Ebinama’s tender plants and lovers. With its overlapping watercolor embraces Ebinama’s “Hugging Party” feels particularly poignant amid a moment of collective distancing.  

Ilana Savdie, “Entrañadas” (2020), oil, acrylic, and pigmented wax on canvas mounted on panel, 58 x 48 inches (image courtesy the artist; photo by Christopher Gardner)

Vibrating with bold color, abstractions by Theresa Chromati and Ilana Savdie each teem with movement, suggestive of many shifting limbs. Chromati’s swirling, fragmented figures assert a changing sense of self while Savdie, born and raised in Barranquilla, Colombia, references the Marimonda figure prominent in the city’s carnival celebrations. Their fluidity echoes the moving street and the broader world in flux. Many of the billboards become portals, toggling between the everyday and the surreal, towards what Jahmal himself has described as a “kind of filtered realism.” Fittingly, Felipe Baeza’s “Unruly Suspension” (2020) features a levitating cloud-like figure whose dangling threads peek above industrial Bushwick structures. 

Walking back through piles of snow, I wonder what “something” the exhibition is on the other side of: Is it a post-pandemic world? Is it the sidewalk from which you may look up to see the billboards? Perhaps it’s the inhabitants and furniture on the other side of domestic walls — like the lush bathroom scene painted by Ariel Dannielle in “Luxuriate Disorder” (2019) — walls which, for many, have certainly harbored new intimacies. 

Felipe Baeza, “Unruly Suspension” (2020), ink, graphite, flashe, cut paper, acrylic, watercolor, varnish, and embroidery on panel, 14 x 11 inches (courtesy the artist and Maureen Paley, London/Hove; artwork photo by Brad Farwell; install photo by Orange Barrel Media)

Walls for a Cause NYC will continue to rotate billboards around New York City throughout 2021. On the Other Side of Something continues online through March 24 at We Buy Gold. The exhibition is curated by Jeonna Bellorado-Samuels and Diana Nawi.

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