Los Angeles artist Sarah Cain has saturated the Contemporary Art Museum of Raleigh’s 4,000-square-foot upper gallery with the formal poetics of her site-specific painting. Intertwined layers of flat circles, X’s, dripping sprays, and loose strokes cover the walls and seep down onto the floor. Edges are forgotten under the veil of Cain’s abstractions. The work is painted directly onto the wall, but the word ‘mural’ cannot be used to describe this work. Cain’s painting is an event. The walls track her movements and animate her ideas.
Mattresses in the center of the space invite the viewer to casually sit and let the work unfold its many layers. As happens when sitting on a close friend’s bed and conversing, the presence of the mattresses builds intimacy. Towels and remnants of clothing integrate the painting as if they were the wet towels and dirty clothes strung about on the floor. The objects mediate between the viewer’s reality and Cain’s realm of abstraction but also deconstruct to be only material like the paint itself.
The exhibition at CAM Raleigh stands apart from Cain’s earlier works because her familiar use of X’s now repeat in pairs. Interpretation is left to the open, but the X’s could be figures, a double negative, breaks in the line of a poem, or infrastructure for the space. Fluorescent pink strings outline the edges of the X’s and vibrates them against of the walls. The X’s tower over the space, and the sprayed squiggles, drips, shapes, and brushed lines build the narrative — a narrative made complex by marks shifting under and over shapes. The movement is fast-paced but nuanced.
The title of this show borrows lyrics from The Imaginary Architecture of Love performed by Hush Hush. A line reads: It’s a stark white cube in a hollow glade / where the modern heart starts to salivate.
The song describes a cold emptiness in the modern architecture of galleries and museums. Cain does not oppose the white cube with a conceptual protest like institutional critique artists, Michael Asher or Andrea Fraser. Instead, Cain offers a resolve with abstraction. Cain alters the blank walls and builds interaction out of nothingness.
Cain has hidden truths of exchange and memory in the formal executions of the painting. Connections and relationships are intangible—relationships to others, to environment, to events, to objects. Unable to be represented, these interactions exist within time rendered by memory. Cain’s work operates just the same. By painting directly on the walls, she subjects herself to an unsettling amount of loss once exhibition ends. Now that the exhibition has ended, the painting has been erased and all that is left is memory of the interactions. True to the abstraction of her work, the painting not only punctuates space, but also time.