Kyle Young: Push Play

David Feil
April 13, 2012

The title of Kyle Young's new solo show, Push Play, elicits a few immediate connotations: the bubbling energy of music or video bursting out of silence on the one hand, and the familiar geometric iconography of the buttons on boomboxes, CD players or VCRs on the other. Opening the door to Houston's Art Palace indeed gives the feeling that something has suddenly been turned on. Bright colors and clean shapes previously hidden behind the exterior's frosted glass bombard from the stark white gallery walls. The fact that the show is also Young's return to exhibiting after an eight-year "pause"—another reason to "push play"—seems only a secondary concern. At least, at first.

Kyle Young, Infinite Reduction Series; image courtesy Art Palace.

The exhibit builds off of a single conceptual approach, where Young used slices and sections of circles and ellipses as the basis for collaged compositions. For most of the work, this approach is made manifest as reassembled strips of monotype prints on white paper, though there is also a series of three Portraits where the prints are cut along the shapes' edges so that they can be superimposed on colored backgrounds, as well as three large-scale acrylic works where the cropped forms of the shapes are painted on canvas panels that are then arranged to mimic the collaged strips of the monotype prints. Strategically placed in the front room, the three Portraits and the acrylic work Fathers—all works which contain no white—account for the colorful salvoes upon entry.

Further in, the lengthwise wall of the gallery which spans the front and back rooms shows a grid of framed prints—all part of a a single work titled Infinite Reduction Series—where each row and column alternates circles and ellipses, uncut and uncollaged, that are quickly recognizable as the source material of the print collages in the show. Infinite Reduction Series, as if aware of its grandparent-like status, is meditative and serene, even a little sedate, but its placidity heightens the energy and movement present elsewhere. In contrast to the seamless surfaces of Infinite Reduction Series’ monotype prints, the textured brushstrokes and much larger dimensions of the three acrylic works give a more palpable materiality to Young's experiments.

There is a visceral delight to wandering around in the open space, a lingering effect from that initial surge of color that greets the viewer at the doorway, but as the giddiness turns to more sober analysis, the works don't always maintain the ethereal immaculateness that solid geometry would imply. For a body of work that embodies a single uncluttered approach, where the constructions rely not on overlap and occlusion but on tempered juxtaposition, execution becomes a linchpin of success. While the effect of the works seen together as a whole on the wall is rather grand, close inspection in many cases comes up short.

Kyle Young, Push Play installation view; image courtesy Art Palace.

Young’s technique with materials comes off lacking in several works. Some collaged prints appear misaligned, the component pieces uncomfortably encroaching over one another's edges, for instance, while others often appear ineffectively glued, leaving the individual pieces of paper to curl up off the backing. While these concerns might not seem monumental, they begin to shed doubt on other aspects of the series: the uneven grids, the slivers of negative space in between the shapes in the three Portraits, the slight asymmetries in the three vertically aligned Fathers compositions, and so on. Each of these examples could, perhaps, in a more defined context, come across as an intentional, idiosyncratic feature of the individual work or even as an important aspect of Young's investigations. But they seem careless, and thus end up becoming not necessarily flaws but questions that keep the viewer from telling the intrinsic from the incidental. Young has obviously put thought into choosing his materials, but whether the particularities of that medium are really supposed to be taken as part of the significance of the work is hard to say, as the indeterminate execution casts the material as nothing more than noise that bites at the ankles of an otherwise purely geometric signal.

I left pondering Young's absence and the return that Push Play heralds. Of course, the idea that a simple touch of a button will swiftly inundate us with the sights and sounds of our wildest dreams is no more than a fantasy, a naive yearning for instant gratification. There's other phenomena in play besides pure electricity—the material, and the mechanics of making—which may easily be forgotten in the excitement.

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