Patricia Satterlee Enough PIE for Everyone! opened last weekend at Gold/scopophilia, a cozy, sunny white box tucked into a narrow mews in Montclair, New Jersey.
It was the first opening I’ve attended — the first gallery I’ve walked into — since the lockdown began. I haven’t ventured into New York City since February 29, 2020, and I doubt that I will be returning anytime soon. Montclair is a 30-minute drive from home. No border crossings required, but the unfamiliarity of a once routine event felt like a deep-sea dive into the lost continent of Atlantis, in search of something I’d forgotten there.
As fate would have it, Satterlee’s exhibition ATOMIC at Frosch&Portmann on the Lower East Side was the last show by a contemporary artist I reviewed before the pandemic scuttled everything. ATOMIC, which opened on December 5, 2019, and closed on January 12, 2020, set the tone for the plague year, unbeknownst to anyone. I wonder how many other shows at that moment were also dancing around the disaster to come.
Rippling with apocalyptic imagery, the 17 abstract paintings in the ATOMIC series are dominated by a shape resembling a mushroom cloud, an association whose implications felt, as I wrote at the time, “both peculiar and dire — a once-and-future existential threat embodying the absurdity of global calamity — absurd because it is human-made, preventable, and, without constant vigilance, inevitable.”
One week later, I wrote a piece about the decades-dead sculptor Marino Marini, whose works were on view at the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA) in Soho. The title of the exhibition was Marino Marini: Arcadian Nudes, a focus that shifted the spotlight from his well-known equestrian bronzes. Marini had been a member of the Italian Fascist Party, an affiliation required for his teaching job at the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera, Milan. He fled Italy for Switzerland in 1943, and his subsequent work acquired an anti-imperialist bent, growing increasingly abstract as superpower competition magnified the possibility of a nuclear Armageddon.
If Marini’s horses in the postwar years seem to rear, buckle, and disintegrate under the weight of potential annihilation, his nudes before, during, and after World War II, for the most part, retained an air of tranquility. The contradiction was explained by CIMA’s president, Laura Mattioli, at the exhibition’s press preview, who noted that the classicized buoyancy of the nudes was an expression of hope in the face of darkness. The kinship of Marini’s full, rounded bodies to fertility figures was underscored by the decision of the curator, Dr. Flavio Fergonzi, to display a plaster cast of the Venus of Willendorf owned by the artist.
The events that followed those two reviews at the end of 2019 — disease, racial unrest, insurrection — coupled with the ongoing menace of domestic fascism, have turned the idea of apocalypse from a punchline on evangelical groupthink into a palpable, looming presence.
Satterlee’s new works — a series of more than 30 square panels in Flashe and graphite on cotton mounted on wood — address the country’s divisions in a disarmingly direct way. As she told me at the opening, her idea was to respond to the zero-sum game of partisanship (our side gains only if the other side loses) with invocations of abundance (hence the exhibition’s title).
The hope that Marini invested in his sculpted bodies was most frequently embodied in the motif of the mythical Pomona, described by Wikipedia as “a goddess of fruitful abundance.” In my review I cite the art historian Eric Steingräber, who stated that Pomona “stands for the fullness of life,” and that “[n]early all of Marini’s female statues,” because they shared that same richness, “could be called ‘Pomona.’”
Satterlee’s paintings, each titled “PIE” and numbered, are essentially pie charts drawn in graphite with mottled undercurrents suffused in sometimes liquid, sometimes lithic color shifting unpredictably from slice to slice. They are guided by a simple geometry, radii emanating from a center point, delimited by a circle. But their simplicity belies their rambunctiousness, and their rambunctiousness disguises their tranquility: vectors burst forth like outstretched arms, before the lines that form them circle back to the center, their classicism acting as a balm to sooth the deformations inflicted on our lives.
Patricia Satterlee Enough PIE for Everyone! continues at Gold/scopophilia (594 Valley Road, Montclair, New Jersey) through April 18.