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Paul Sietsema, "Figure ground study (50/50)," 2016
Ink and enamel on paper in artist's frame, 54 1/2 x 59 1/4 inches (138 x 151 cm)
© Paul Sietsema, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

First impressions of the art of Paul Sietsema are deceptive. Some of his paintings appear to be photographs or collages of US silver dollars mounted atop sheets of newspaper. Only a much a closer look reveals works of amazing trompe l'oeil, the French term for tricking the eye to believe that something is an actual dimensional object when it is rendered in paint. In the days before photography, such skill delighted viewers but not many artists choose to exercise it today. Sietsema has painted each silver dollar as well as each word of the article or ad on which it rests. Sietsema's sleight of hand is more than a simple demonstration of prowess. Each silver dollar recalls the history of currency including the maxim E Pluribus Unum: Out of Many, One. This phrase is to be found on all American money but it seems especially poignant following the most divisive election in recent memory.

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Paul Sietsema, "Green painting," 2016
Enamel on linen, 51 1/2 x 47 7/8 inches (131 x 122 cm)
© Paul Sietsema, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

Sietsema's paintings underscore the significance of such a sentiment while they insist on an interrogatory position. What does it really mean? What are we really seeing? This idea is reinforced in Sietsema's large canvas painted green, the color of money. It is a smooth rectangle disrupted by a wiped gesture that appears to clear away some of the paint to reveal a hole. But that too is only the illusion of a tear in the otherwise flawless surface.

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Paul Sietsema, "Abstract Composition," 2014
35mm film, approx. 15 minutes, looping
© Paul Sietsema, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

Sietsema invites us to spend time enjoying and pondering the challenges of collective history and the passage of time. Projectors show his 35 mm films in darkened rooms. The sound of the film clicking along is the only accompaniment for "At The Hour of Tea" (2013): gold pocket watches, fountain pens, black bordered stationery, which was only used during a time of mourning in the 19th century. (In one clip, the stationery is wryly printed with the name of the artist's dealer Matthew Marks.) Words from an unseen typewriter appear on the paper to describe the images and colors in a variety of paintings as though each could tell a story.

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Paul Sietsema, "Vertical newspaper (thin green line)," 2016
Ink and enamel on paper in artist's frame, 54 1/2 x 31 1/4 inches (138 x 79 cm)
© Paul Sietsema, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

Another gallery with a giant projector shows a cardboard sign rotating in space with changing words describing works of art and furniture. Rarity and value is evanescent, it implies, as fleeting as the ability to conjure a response to provincial cabinet or presentation bowl or painting of an approaching storm.

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Paul Sietsema, "Coin painting," 2016
Enamel on linen, 35 x 31 1/2 inches (89 x 80 cm)
© Paul Sietsema, Courtesy Matthew Marks Gallery

It is beyond obvious for contemporary artists to questioning the historical role of cultural objects and their financial worth. However, few artists are capable of examining these ideas with the Proustian finesse of Sietsema. In these weeks of manic pre-holiday shopping, invest the time to enjoy it before it is lost to another of our daily internet-driven pursuits. On view at Matthew Marks through December 23.

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