Sarah Frantz’s current exhibition at Women and their Work is somewhat born of ideas about modernist architecture and her visual re-contextualization of banal landscapes and buildings. It’s a large exhibition of 22 two-dimensional pieces dotting the walls; the arrangement of the works within the gallery is as playful as the neon colors within the works. Some hang strangely low, others are grouped together, some are at eye-level. This unusual spacing might align with Frantz’s current work addressing the missing pieces of memory, time and physical place one experiences during road travel. Her pieces act as recollections of the forgotten time on the road that fills one’s head; here they’re made anew with a stylized version of memory’s tricky embellishment.
There are buildings, landscapes and many blank billboards in her Not Too Distant Future series, with pink and purple flat color fields applied over their non-ad, not-quite-negative spaces. Frantz combines solid graphite drawings of plain scenes from the road with vivid gouache application that implies collage. These recent works are a radioactive interpretation of receding space. The roadside scenes are familiar in a general way to the Texan roadtripper; I even recognize the geo-dome building in Sun Valley Blvd from my trips from Austin to Dallas. These views are markers of the banal yet bucolic, a piece of the collective consciousness about driving through forgotten blurs of towns and collective feelings we associate with the American landscape.
Frantz’s artist statement refers to seeing old things in a new way, and this is an honest artist goal. To me, though, in these works in particular, she’s performing a rather uninspired task of accessorizing the unspectacular. The show is a colorful whirl of precise graphic drawings, and maybe it’s my deep aversion to trendy shapes and colors, but these works feel too commercial—too much like something on a design blog or on Pinterest. Combining trendy color palettes with traditional drawing doesn’t hit something profound; it comes off at times too much like eye-candy.
I simply don’t buy this version of her attempt to make banal landscapes reflect our experience of modern nature. I do think the stylized layering she uses to convey her ideas about memories and buildings speaks, maybe inadvertently, to the overabundance of enhanced images of reality that exist purely within the space of technology. I could be wrong, but I don’t think Frantz is making this kind of statement with her work, and what the pieces are about for her plays second fiddle to the decoration she implements here.
There is, however, one painting that was out of place in the exhibition: Pacific Northwest One Million is a large gooey oil painting on canvas, thick and shiny with dark green foliage that easily feels as lush as the encompassing biomass of its namesake. It’s dark and enrapturing—the colors are spot on and whatever she was contriving with the pretty colors in the other works is here thrown out for a freer, more intuitively made piece. Frantz’s future work could benefit from more of this kind of more direct-yet-dreamy, unembellished impulse.
Between Borderlands will be on view at Women and Their Work until March 19; womenandtheirwork.org. Sarah Frantz’s web presence is here: sarajfrantz.com