Last Thursday evening, Norwegian artist Ida Eklbad (b. 1980) stood out from the crowd gathered at Greene Naftali Gallery on 26th Street for the opening of her new exhibition. Understated and elegant in a slate-gray velvet dress that clung to her very-pregnant belly, her blonde hair pulled back to reveal a high forehead, she chatted with visitors who swarmed around her, ducking into the gallery’s back room every so often -- presumably to catch her breath.
It would be no exaggeration to say that the young Ekblad, born and based in Oslo, is en route to becoming an art-world sensation, as evidenced by her inclusion in "ILLUMInations," the 54th Venice Biennale, glossy profiles in Vogue.it and the Norwegian culture mag Natt&Dag, and this, her debut solo show in the U.S. -- the first we’ve seen of her since she participated in the New Museum’s 2009 exhibition, “Younger Than Jesus.”
With her cold, Nordic beauty -- clear skin, button nose, glacial eyes -- Ekblad seems an unlikely producer of the boisterous paintings and sculptures scattered throughout the gallery. Appealingly incongruous, too, are Greene Naftali’s sleek, white spaces with the colorful cacophony of her abstractions, which inhabit the walls and floor frenetically, like zoo animals.
In her paintings, blunt abstract shapes drag and jerk through shallow space, their varied palette -- bright pinks and greens, smoky earth tones -- suggesting strands of dyed wool or the Earth viewed from space, its serpentine rivers and banks woven together, beige sand climbing verdant coasts and swamp melting into sea. Viewed from a distance, the freedom of their contours and colors even recalls the Fauvist landscapes of Henri Matisse or Andre Derain.
Ekblad's sculptures, in contrast, are airy constructions of steel, individual elements welded together and painted in colored lacquer monochromes, not unlike familiar works by David Smith and Anthony Caro. Some stand alone in the middle of the gallery on diminutive bases, lean structures that seem slightly hunched, like timid guests. Others are scrappy tangles of pale blue metal, or seem to fall in on themselves, curled up in a corner like a neglected pet.
Along with other younger artists, Ekblad is putting her own stamp on a kind of evocative abstraction that had seemed exhausted by earlier masters, from Wassily Kandinsky and Joan Miró to Jackson Pollock and Asger Jorn, and her works offer a refreshing return to the simple, physical pleasure of sculpture and painting. Sensual, visceral and exuberant, the show is an oasis in a desert of glib irony.
“Ida Ekblad,” Sept. 15-Oct. 15, 2011, Greene Naftali Gallery, 508 West 26th Street, 8th floor, New York, N.Y., 10001.