Zoe Stillpass cuts her curatorial teeth with Fearful Symmetry

Kitty Kraus, Untitled, 2013.

Last Saturday, above the cookie-cutter Irish bars in Manhattan’s Hell’s Kitchen, an unusual exhibition opened at an unusually located gallery. The Paris-based gallerists Daniele Balice and Alexander Hertling have just reconceived their two-year old fourth-floor space on Ninth Avenue as a project room, where curious onlookers streamed in to check out “Fearful Symmetry,” a smart group show curated by Zoe Stillpass.

Stillpass, 29, is from Cincinnati and lives in Paris, where she studies and lectures at the Sorbonne. She has a Midwesterner’s good cheer and a Parisian’s affinity for abstract thought—which means that, when we met for drinks the day after the opening, she was equally at ease dissecting the mid-aughts cult of Abercrombie & Fitch as she was modern theories in advanced mathematics. She drew, thankfully, from the latter for her show, which explores how the breaking up of naturally occurring symmetries is necessary for creation. “Symmetry runs through everything in the world,” she explained. “And when you break it, that energy creates new forms.”

In an artist’s hand, this might be something so elegant and unobtrusive as leaving a plane of untreated steel outdoors, where its smooth surface (symmetrical from all angles) will oxidize irregularly, as the young artist Sam Falls has done. Or it can be as intrusive as Chadwick Rantanen’s deft application of a digital camo pattern atop the still surface of a bin filled with water. In several pieces, a breakdown of symmetry results in a phase change—as in the case of Kitty Kraus’s block of ice, which holds dark ink inside of it that will spread across the floor as the ice melts.

In other words, symmetry, while making for attractive faces, is static and predictable. “The more change there is in the world, the more symmetry is being broken,” said Stillpass, who, in curating her first show, is doing some breaking of her own. In fact, new ground broken seemed to be the order of the day last weekend. On a stretch of Midtown West largely untrafficked by the art world, Balice Hertling’s frontiersmen presence is starting to effect a climate change—the New Galerie, also of Paris, started a satellite space in the same building recently, and timed its exhibition opening to coincide with that of their neighbors. Is Hell’s Kitchen about to become a new art corridor connecting the galleries of 57th Street with those in Chelsea? The location is, as it turns out, directly in between. It would only be symmetrical.

“Fearful Symmetry” is on view through December 14, 2013, at Balice Hertling at the Film Center, 630 9th Avenue, Suite 403, in New York.

Photos: Face-Off

Chadwick Rantanen, Bins, 2013.

Joel Otterson, The Garden Floor, 2012; Monir Shahroudy Farmanfarmaian, Group 7 (Convertible Series), 2010.

Kitty Kraus, Untitled, 2013.