Karla Black

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'I Work Purely Out of Desire': Karla Black Conjures Ethereal Beauty at David Zwirner

One afternoon a few weeks ago, the artist Karla Black was telling me all about toilet paper. "In the '70s and '80s there was a fashion for colored toilet paper when people had colored bathroom suites," Black said, as we stood in one of David Zwirner's many capacious galleries on West 19th Street. "It died out so it's hard to get now." But she has become a connoisseur of the stuff, a seasoned buyer. Her art depends on it.

We were looking at a work that Black had created for her second show at Zwirner, which runs through March 26, and she was just about certain it was finished. It was a sculpture made with low pools of dry powdered paint and plaster—the colors of rich chocolate, wet mud, tan leather, cotton candy—that sprawls across more than 800 square feet of the space. Streams of toilet paper encircle most of those colors.

"The pink comes from Britain," Black said, walking around the piece, pointing out the paper. "The brown is American. That buff color is American—that's really ecologically friendly, unbleached."

Not that it actually looked like that humble bathroom necessity, to be clear. Elegantly crimped, the paper could have been the fringe on a table at a formal reception or the ornamented edge of a very fine cake. Such is Black's power. She is a master of teasing transcendent effects out of the most quotidian materials, like paper, bath bombs, nail polish, and tape. She pushes Post-Minimalism into a zone that is ethereal, hushed, and mysterious, and that teases other senses. Her work begs to be touched, inhaled, and examined up close.

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