Counting Cards at Grandma’s: Nan Swid and Donald Kaufman Recent Work at Gallery 9E

Nan Swid’s Combination Wall 2 (2009) at Gallery 9E -- all photos by Rodin Banica

I leaned down to speak to a charming young girl in a maroon dress staring candidly up at Nan Swid’s Combination Wall 2 (2009) at Gallery 9E 508 West 26th St. in Chelsea, Thursday evening.

“What do you see?”  I asked confidentially, hoping for a pithy, surprising, funny or illuminating quote.

The light of the golden hour transfigured her blonde curls as she turned away from the window and the roughly 24 square foot wall-mounted construction, fashioned from panel, disassembled book paper, and nails, variously coated by encaustic wax that we had been facing.   She leveled her clear and  steady gaze on me.

Nan Swid's Day Window (2010)

“Grandma’s art work.”

Well, that threw me for a loop.

“How often do you see it?” I queried, regaining my friendly poise.

She looked puzzled.  I changed tactics.

“How old are you?”


“You’ve been seeing it your whole life, then.”

Duh, her blankness seemed to say as she flipped her hair turning away towards the window.  I might have been the only one counting.

Donald Kaufman's Graph 2010

I did a lot of counting at the show of recent work that Swid shared with Donald Kaufman at 9E.  I counted the disassembled books in Swid’s wall relief’s, framed assemblages building from materials similar to those of the the wall mounts, to foil-like assemblages of dark to brightly colored and clear cellophanes, leading finally to ones encrusted with gold leaf over index pages from manila legal files: N – O, or Z – X for instance.

In Kaufman’s room, around an open L-shaped corner, I counted cards.  His 19 gauche on paper works present jarring as well as subtle juxtapositions of color.  Said to have been inspired by architectural color samples, they depict variegated rectangle shaped single color fields in repeated flat patterns.  Within each image, these rectangular color fields keep to a more or less uniform size and their arrangement suggests to the mind a set of overlapping cards upon a table as seen from above. The “table top” consists of a single, often strong, color that serves as background or field framing the arrangement of the card-like smaller rectangles.

Donald Kaufman's room at Gallery 9E, 508 West 26th St, New York

My notes for these pieces read something like: “12 on olive” for Canyon (2010), or “7 on NECO” for Graph (2010)  the latter color recalling in its gouache texture, the kind of plum brown I remember from NECO valentine Sweethearts. Across from Swid’s relatively expansive pieces, often amplified by their simple but elegant frames, Kaufman’s unframed jazz riffs on Albers, which, all in portrait orientation, range in size from only 70 to 432 square inches rectangular, look diminutive.

Wall of Nan Swid pieces at Gallery 9E

The design and even the fashion pedigree of both artists can easily be discerned in the way they handle their materials, while the counterpoint of Kaufman’s dry understatement with Swid’s sometimes playful, sometimes sultry,  sensual and textural interplay proves effectively complementary.  The show continues through Sunday, May 9.


A concentration of DJ McDonald’s pieces for Culturebot and beyond can be found at City Of Glass.

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