Walking into James Krone’s latest exhibition, “The Wilderness Is the Witches Leash,” is like stepping onto a lovingly crafted and sincere movie set, however paradoxical that may sound. Much of the feeling derives initially from the domestic architecture of Country Club Projects, which operates out of Rudolf Schindler’s 1934 Buck House. Krone’s paintings hang throughout the furnished home and propel viewers to meander through the space––from living room to dining room to bedroom and back––while inviting fantasies of dinner parties and backyard soirees, cigarette and highball in hand. Krone riffs on this dream by placing his Ashtray Watchtowers, 2010––vertical limblike sculptures formed from the branches of a birch tree––in front of his not-quite-monochrome paintings on the wall. Filled with sand at top, the Ashtray Watchtowers are functional ashtrays, and viewers are invited to light their own smoke, contemplate the canvases between drags, and extinguish the butt in one of the sculptures.
At once props and actors, Krone’s works force the smoker’s disinterested gaze onto the legacies of modernist art history. In his paintings, Krone is neither antagonistic nor dismissive toward the monochrome, yet he challenges Greenbergian flatness by painting thin, rectangular layers of deep shades of violet and indigo directly on unprimed canvas sized with rabbit-skin glue. The result is a surface that appears contradictory: Certain areas are soaked with pigment and threaten to collapse into a black hole, while other sections are hard and reflective, refusing access to the canvas beneath. As a result, Krone’s investigation of modernist strategies is less concerned with finding new solutions to old dilemmas than it is about exploring the hidden possibilities of previously solved problems, thus setting the stage for a novel adaptation of a midcentury classic.