Living in the Chelsea Gallery District, I frequently walk through the West 20s. Rarely does an exhibition stop me in my tracks to the gym or the Highline or to see the wisteria tree in bloom on 21st. Yet, Kay Rosen pulled me in off the street.

Now through June 28, Sikkema Jenkins & Co. is exhibiting BLINGO, Rosen’s visual challenge to “the way that we read and understand language.”

Kay Rosen "Monuments"

Kay Rosen “Monuments”

Initially, it was Monuments, the floor-to-ceiling wall painting, that piqued my interest. The word “obelisk” intersects vertically with “odalisk” (meaning a female slave in a harem) stretching horizontally. The balanced, interdependent composition equalizes the words, as Rosen explains:

“Vertical does not trump horizontal; nor upright, prostrate. Male does not trump female. Sculpture does not trump painting. The representation of both ODALISKS and OBELISKS throughout the history of art is equally iconic and illustrious. Any perceived hierarchy is supplied by the viewer.”

Her combination of graphic design, word play, and cultural critique is just how I like my art. As I ventured further into the gallery, I was delighted by Echo and LOL—as “visual representations of vocal concepts.”

Kay Rosen "Echo"

Kay Rosen “Echo”

Kay Rosen "LOL"

Kay Rosen “LOL”

Echo blew my mind. I gawked at how Rosen had collocated the word ECHO “to reflect itself horizontally and vertically four times over, creating a graphic reverberation.”

I did laugh out loud at LOL, enjoying how “the A’s are lifted off the baseline, so that HA HA HA HA HA looks like it is moving up and down and shaking and laughing.”



Staring at Backtrack, I pondered if there had ever been a more accurate portrayal of how backtracking feels. Something gets spelled out, turned around, re-trod, and rendered indecipherable. Only the T remains readable, marking the dead-end of the conversation.

Kay Rosen "Backtrack"

Kay Rosen “Backtrack”

An alternative viewpoint—if I challenge myself to go beyond this first somewhat disenchanted interpretation—Rosen’s work could also be read as representing the exquisite jumble that is inquisitiveness. That initial zeal of interest that provokes us to fall all over ourselves to connect and then entices us to keep moving forward, together. Perhaps, Backtrack paints a picture of something wondrous. That indescribable pull, that BLINGO, that will summon me back to 22nd Street to stare at words on a wall.

T marks the scene.