The Poetics of Omission: Alex Gardner’s “We All Exist Right Now” at the Long Beach Museum of Art
Long Beach Museum of Art, Long Beach
through May 1, 2022
Written by Halim Madi
Faceless figures have taken over the walls on the first floor of the Long Beach Museum of Art and will do so until May 1st this year. Rather than a lack however, the absence of features delineates the potency of the nondescript. Long Beach-Native Alex Gardner’s work reminds us how much we can feel, especially when very little is given away.
Indeed, Gardner is a master of omission. The less we see of a figure the more fear it inspires. In “there’s more where that came from”, we only see the hand and feet of the assumed oppressor lunging towards another lying figure. In “panic had a spare key” a shadow stands in the doorway, arms folded. Both of these pieces occur in a beige-pink setting. The soothing colors further heighten the negative charge of the scene. They augment the potent power of everything unsaid.
Every piece in “We All Exist Right Now” invites the mind to complete the missing structures. Visitors witness themselves filling the narrative gaps Gardner leaves wide open. This phenomena’s epitome is reached in one of the few “Untitled” pieces in the exhibition: A hand pressing into what might be another figure’s back. This sole portrayal of non-figurative violence in the show left me spinning stories like no other.
In this world of invisible narratives, architecture is Gardner’s ally. The artist never reveals the full structure his figures roam in. The invisible architecture and occasional pieces of furniture echo the invisible narrative: Why is a character standing on another’s back in “Cheap Ain’t Cheap?” and who is being sandwiched in “Sandwich on Sourdough’s Embrace”? The harsh angles of invisible walls accentuate the character’s dynamics. Missing buildings are both the playwright and the witness of these ambiguous tragedies.
In Gardner’s impermanent world, every room is a chromatic experience. Every piece is a light and space experiment. Colors are one of Gardner’s storytellers, narrators in and of themselves. Beige tints both a piece and its latent narrative with an air of distinction, almost luxury – maybe violence behind closed doors. Blue is detached, distant, disengaged. Red is suspenseful, ready. Hence, when looking at the 3 figures standing in front of a door, drenched in red, in “Everyone Loves a Wreck”, I expect a fight.
Gardner’s pregnant stories are subtle and relatable, if often convoluted: “Crisis on Schedule” makes long term partners smile, “Brought a Cheese Board to a Gun Fight” captures the times we naively showed up raw and vulnerable to a violent conflict. Looking at the collection as a whole however, my mind starts piecing a meta narrative. Is the figure in blue in “Cheers to the Firing Squad” the same as the one in “Somebody Gotta Do the Work” and “Daddy Sam Don’t Care”? Are the similar haircuts and colors across paintings a thread to follow? As I ponder that, I’m reminded of a line in Carl Phillips’ poem “Wild is the Wind”. Phillips ends an introspective piece with a shocking sentence: “I’m not done with you yet”. Like Phillips, Gardner breaks the 4th wall with his work, uncovers visitors’ dormant stories and does the important work of implicating them in their own lives.
Halim Madi is a queer Lebanese poet and programmer working at the intersection of language and technology. You can find more of his work on www.halimmadi.com.