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Monday, Feb. 10, 2020

Linda Moss at Artspace

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Best in Show works explore artist’s quest

Art has served many purposes throughout history – to encourage religious or political devotion, to bear witness, to sell, to entertain. But more and more, we are asking art to provide solutions – solutions for societal ills, solutions for internal conflicts. Art is becoming the answer, not the query.

At Critical Mass 7, I chose Linda Moss’s “Matrilineal” for Best in Show. “Matrilineal” is a large, acrylic painting, a white field, populated by rectilinear patches of color – blue, gold, green, black and pink, a meandering sequence of arrows and Xs; there are also points where the artist covered the canvas with painted burlap, like a blood-soaked bandage on an incised wound.

“Matrilineal” doesn’t present a solution, but it exposes Moss’s search, replete with Candyland-like twists and turns and instances, where the artist went back, covered up the canvas and began again.

I didn’t know, when I saw “Matrilineal” for the first time, that the painting was created while Moss was reckoning with being an adoptee, searching for members of her birth family using a personal genetic testing service.

A year later, Moss has produced “The Shaken Foundation,” an entire exhibition about adoption, based on interviews she conducted with adopted members of online support groups. Each of the 26 paintings represents the experience of a different person except four, which are about Moss herself.

Thirteen abstract works hang on one wall. These are composed of motifs Moss first developed in “Matrilineal.” Blocks of bright color dominate with groupings of smaller brushstrokes, like tally marks, which are sometimes stationary, lurking in the hollows of the paintings and sometimes swirling in riotous movement like schools of fish. She scars the surfaces, scratching the paint or writing on it in ballpoint pen, and, in some places, dresses those scars with scraps of painted burlap. And there are some new elements in Moss’s lexicon — chalk rubbings, scraps of Uline Catalogues, bits of fabric and trim, and thick circles of dried paint that spring from their backgrounds like red and green and gold suns. What emerges is often a map, a chaotic progression of symbolic elements in which the viewer can easily lose themselves searching for a solution.

Moss showcases her color sense in these abstract works. Two standouts are “Fake,” with its acid green and lavender overlays, and “Ghost Kingdom, Happy Place,” with its vintage peach and teal tones. Because of their bold color schemes and their shared language, taken together, they are like a patchwork quilt made of distinct fabric swatches and might benefit from being presented that way.

The other wall of the gallery holds 13 more figurative paintings. With the exception of “Ghost Kingdom, Happy Place,” they seem like an entirely different body of work. This work is less intentional and less cohesive, as if the artist sacrificed some of herself, trying to literally represent other people’s emotions.

“The Shaken Foundation” attempts to make real the emotional landscapes of 23 different people. Moss is most successful when she stands between subject and viewer, translating their words into her own artistic language.

Ann Hackett is a New Orleans-based writer. Her stories and reviews on contemporary art have appeared in the New Orleans Times Picayune, Pelican Bomb and BURNAWAY.

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