These share vitrine space with Objects of Significance, small three-dimensional watercolor paper sculptures: hands proffering modest treasures, headdresses, birds. In one sequence, a cardinal turns into a teacup and flies away. Curator Jennifer Roberts, with co-curator Marie Roberts, has arranged each assemblage of objects and paintings with an eye toward colors and movement that compliment each other; no display is static, and together they pull the viewer toward the larger gallery and its treasures.
The window paintings, suspended and staggered throughout the space, offer their own Narnia effect. Without the customary frames and walls to situate and separate image from environment, they present as portals: to a Brooklyn bookshop, a flower-filled courtyard, an African drum store, an interior shadowed by a nighttime fire escape. Similarly, the fact that gallerygoers can walk behind as well as in front of the window paintings, many of which are life-sized or larger, adds to the ambiguity.
That question of where, exactly, we are in relation to what we think we see is amplified within the paintings, where reflections and shadows distort depth of field and pleasingly disorient the observer. McNeal’s compositions nod to the notion that frames do not always cleanly divide one world from another. Shop windows offer both the goods inside and the street behind the viewer; a door temptingly marked “PRIVATE” shares the canvas with a riverscape, fence, and buildings, revealing itself to be a shared reflection rather than a barrier. Is the perched white peacock we see in the glass on the store shelves, or in the tree behind us? The possibility of the latter reality turns the world wonderful for a moment.
These painted spaces ask the viewer to cast a backward glance over their shoulder or peer around the other side of the canvas, adjust their stance, and wonder, Where am I? At a historical moment that feels increasingly liminal, with a barrage of health, economic, civic, and environmental emergencies barely acknowledged and constantly obscured in the wider world, the feeling is not unfamiliar. Yet to be shown that uncertainty can be elegant, enigmatic, and delightful is a gift. And to be given insight into how everyday objects can transform into vessels of beauty and comfort is another. Both are sorely needed right now, and this Ordinary Magic is very welcome.