Review: Taher Jaoui, Controlled Entropy at 81 Leonard Gallery co-presented by Uncommon Beauty on view until February 28th, 2020
Taher Jaoui is not afraid of expressing himself through a full palette and a wide array of textures. In his paintings, various colors and forms – sometimes abstract, sometimes semi-figurative, and sometimes mathematical signs and numbers — are choreographed into a wild dance, reaching to every corner of the canvas. Controlled Entropy is the self-taught, Tunisian-born, and Berlin-based artist’s first solo presentation in the U.S. Featuring three bodies of paintings from 2019 and a new sculpture from 2020 the exhibition is vibrant and fresh.
Fully charting the artist’s creative process, Controlled Entropy also presents a number of studies pulled from Jaoui’s notebooks. This moment in the exhibition offers a space to contemplate isolated smaller gestures that characterize the markings in his large-scale works. 81 Leonard Gallery’s space lends itself well to this overall overview. The large paintings – the tallest of which is 142 inches high (The coconut palm is bleeding, 2019) – tower above visitors in the front and back rooms while the smaller drawings dwell in a hallway that connects the front and back of the gallery – visiting the show is a winding journey through the imagination of the artist.
While Jaoui’s creative process is spontaneous – layering oil, enamel, spray paint and charcoal on canvas until the continuously changing elements settle into a harmony – the seemingly impulsive way of art making is grounded in his strong familiarity with various materials and his capability to predict and respond to them quickly.
As indicated by the exhibition title, Controlled Entropy, Jaoui’s work is a playground of a free soul and a rational mind, and so is Jaoui himself. Growing up in a scientists’ family, Jaoui was once a financial engineer. Before becoming a visual artist, he was an actor for a few years, during which he learned to use body and movement to convey his feelings — something he found in common in making art. He was also inspired by early Abstract Expressionistic theories that consider ideas of quantum mechanics in the conceptualization. As a result, Jaoui’s work is a game of intuition and reason.
The unconstrained raw energy in Jaoui’s paintings further flows into the third dimension. In addition to Jaoui’s renowned work on canvas, the exhibition also looks into the artist’s most recent experiment with spatial expansion. Jaoui’s new sculpture A Can Opener for Penguins (2020) that is built from dozens of colorful 3D-printed pieces, all hand-mounted into a sophisticated, intertwined structure is on view in the first gallery. The title refers to a surreal moment in David Fincher’s Flight Club in which Edward Norton’s character met a sliding penguin, an embodiment of his subconscious. Through this sculpture, Jaoui frees his own subconscious, manifested as many different elements in a painting under the same title from 2019, and brings these elements to life in the three-dimensional space.
In December, Uncommon Beauty partnered with 81 Leonard Gallery and hosted Havana Intimate, Through the Lens of Evelyn Sosa, a book launch and exhibition featuring the Cuban photographer Evelyn Sosa’s portraits of female entrepreneurs from the creative sphere in Havana. Controlled Entropy marks the second collaboration between the two galleries that both have a mission to show unorthodox artists and art practices with a focus on international diversity.
Controlled Entropy is open through February 28th, 2020 at 81 Leonard Gallery, 81 Leonard Street, New York, NY.
Taher Jaoui (b.1978) was born in Tunis, Tunisia. In 2005 he graduated from Ecole Nationale Supérieure des Mines de Paris and in 2007 from the world-renowned Sorbonne University. He now lives and works in Berlin. Jaoui’s work mixes paintings and drawings in ways that are both abstract and figurative. His compositions are built through an intuitive and unconscious process while his inspiration comes from many sources, including abstract expressionism, cartoons, graffiti, street art and primitivism. Jaoui’s colorful compositions stimulate the viewers feelings and imagination and let them build their own interpretation. Jaoui is represented by galleries in New York, Berlin, London, Tel Aviv, Tunis, and Dubai. His works are prominently featured in numerous private collections in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and the USA.
Mengna Da is a a writer, translator, curator and producer based in Brooklyn. Her art and cultural criticism have appeared in renowned media outlets in the U.S. and abroad. These include Brooklyn Rail, Hyperallergic, ArtAsiaPacific, Artsy, and ViCE China Creators among others. Her research interests involve: the absurd residing in everyday life, the politics behind what is (constructed to be) seen, digital culture, and gender topics.
Anna Mikaela Ekstrand is a New York based art-critic, independent curator, and the founding editor-in-chief of Cultbytes, an online art publication with an interdisciplinary, feminist, and non-hierarchical focus. Currently she serves as a curatorial advisor and co-curator for The Immigrant Artist Biennial.