Lori Waxman's "60 Wdr/Min Art Critic"
3/5/10 12:01 PM
Glitter and Xerox make an odd couple at first but not second glance. In James Payne's Money Isn't the Everything that Not Having It Is, 2009, conceptual and formal parallels abound between the two decidedly plebian mediums. Glitter, after all, is nothing if not cheap, accessible glamour. Xerox, after all, is nothing if not cheap, accessible printing. Money isn't the anything of either of them, and in case the viewer doesn't quite cotton to thinking about content through material, Payne provides the classic expression, "class war," right smack in the middle of his print. Class party might have been a more apt turn of phrase, however, given the glitter and the Sex Pistols-esque aesthetic of collaged, black-and-white copied text. And what a party it is, down to the correspondence between rectangular pieces of silver glitter and the image fragmentation that results from blowing any image up over and over again on a photostat machine. It's a getting at the heart of the matter old school style, not with digital pixilation but the flash of the copier. But why blow things up? To look closer at it, hoping that what gets lost in the expansion and repetition is replaced by revelation. If not, there's always the pretty flash of glitter to make the emptiness of truisms ring anew.
3/5/10 12:26 PM
The warmth of sepia tones warm the eyes, the uneven softness of burnt edges blur the mind. This is the effect of vintage photography prints, where nostalgia doesn't so much kick in - that would be too harsh a description - as flow or flush. When a contemporary photographer deliberately employs processes that mimic the photography of an earlier era, he or she is conjuring this effect in the viewer, planting it there as a seed meant to sprout a fruit that, in the best of cases, provides nourishment today. Too often this is not the case, and a vintage look equals beauty as balm and not much more. Wesley James's series, Untitled #20-30 (from An American Cemetery), is an exception. Rich watercolor paper and Palladium prints provide the ground on which the photographer's images of American flags - folded, rolled, piled up - can rest both gracefully and critically. Gently placed amid fallen leaves and long grass, the flags are captured with a close-up lens that suggests tenderness but also the desire to look closely and seriously. Their vintage quality and titular location conjure Civil War-era photographs of soldiers, only here the flag stands in for long gone bodies, as posed as they once were, and as polished and proud, as confused and worn out, as dead and alive.
3/5/10 1:02 PM
Amid dizzying alpine peaks and wildly careening bridgework, towering serpentine creatures and endlessly proliferating patterns arise the invented worlds of Aaron Troyer. Two parts Seussian, one part highland fantasy, a half part tribal mishmash and another half part fun park, these strange lands are clearly the creation of an obsessive draftsman. And thankfully so - to picture imaginary worlds compellingly and convincingly demands the hand of a committed doodler, one who perhaps ought to be committed. Not really, of course, though the art of mental patients has long been recognized for both its deftly obsessive and prolific qualities. Troyer clearly ain't so, and the micro-macro aspect of his drawings, as they veer from far-off mountain vistas to close-up details of brickwork and skin, reveals a logic of organization that keeps his best works even-keeled despite their unwieldy strangeness. Where that balance is off things tend to go awry, the world view falling into too much organic matter and not enough structure. Nature versus culture, it seems, is still the central equation even in the newest of worlds.
3/5/10 1:36 PM
Scot Kaplan has made a peep show of sorts. A participatory performance installation titled Control Room, it boldly creates a situation of power, where one person performs tasks at the behest of an anonymous other. Recalling political grotesqueries like the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib as much as sexual grotesqueries like those that happen in your typical strip club or dungeon, the project risks an interesting kind of failure because of its reliance on the ingenuity or lack thereof of the "controller." Given the chance to exercise power over another person, the piece asks, what would we do? In Kaplan's video excerpt from the installation, the answer is fairly predictable: get someone to take their clothes off and hurt themselves a wee bit. A little bit of erotics (because the "subject" is attractive and fit), a little bit of humiliation, not much else. When Dan Graham and Marina Abramovic made works that relied, respectively, on surveillance and on putting power in someone else's hands, they made sure to implicate all the participants, making everyone responsible for the outcome. Kaplan's success, in this instance, is in taking that responsibility away - even if it results in the banality of a naked body slapping itself - because in our era it is the lack of responsibility that is the ultimate, and horribly familiar, situation of social and political failure.
3/5/10 2:11 PM
I have never before heard the sound of a person drowning, or coming close to drowning. It is unbearable, a watery mess of gasps, mucus, drips and snorting that provoke horror in the listener. In Cassandra Troyan's video Untitled (Drowning), 2009, these noises play audio to a video that is, on its own, surprisingly watchable, picturesque even. All soft focus and grayscale, the artist's head is shown as it is being dunked repeatedly into a water-filled bathtub. Silent, as it is for the first third of its run, the video is more abstract than real; with the introduction of sound, everything changes, and the hideousness of this physical situation comes flooding in. The action is entirely voluntary, of course, as can be gathered by the way the performer - Troyan herself - signals to a second person when she is ready to be dunked again, and again, and again. Obviously this is not torture - torture is non-consensual - but the act of being drowned recalls nothing today so much as waterboarding, and the artist's voluntary experience of what is clearly an awful physical situation brings it experientially closer to home both for her and for the viewer. The twist is how pretty and palatable it all is with the sound turned off, a metaphor if ever there was one for the way that too many of us ingest the horrors of the day.
3/5/10 2:41 PM
Working under the pseudonym C.K. Vindaloo, Kristin Nortz makes work whose ingredients are true to her moniker: heat, spice and clich. From scintillating maroon feathers to cute little bunnies, a red hot heat lamp, and a plump, cleaved peach, Nortz presents the materials of seduction in coy configurations that comment wittily on superficial states of love and lust, desire and destiny. Containment features repeatedly, from cages to bell jars, and the lesson seems to be that Hallmark relationships add up to little more than limitations, be they physical or emotional. Found object collage is a nifty way to learn the moral of Nortz's love story - what else, after all, are candy box relationships based on if not pre-existing notions of romance and affection, attraction and excitement? When it really gets interesting is when the bunnies get uncaged and hop away, the feathers melt under the heat lamp, the heart breaks out of all three layers of its bell jar, and the peach rolls off its silky pillow and out the door.
3/5/10 3:33 PM
From amid the eye-popping technicolor whirlwind of swirls and swooshes, platforms and plateaus that constitute the stuff of Jason Amatangelo's bas-reliefs comes a cry not heard in years: Duck Dodgers in the 24th Century! Or so it seems to me, child as I am of Warner Bros. cartoons. Abstract they may be, but Amatangelo's forms and figures constitute a world, and worlds are inevitably peopled, even if those people aren't visible at first sight. Perhaps it's because the artist's low reliefs, created from acrylic paint airbrushed to paper and stuck onto cut-out foam core shapes, creates a space simultaneously two- and three-dimensional, an analog to the hand-drawn cartoons of yesteryear, where giddy motion was conveyed through bright color and jazzy forms. Even Amatangelo's grayscale pieces have this cartoony effect, as if a full-color animation were being seen on the screen of a black-and-white television. Duck Dodgers it is for me - something, or someone, else no doubt calls out to other viewers.
3/5/10 4:04 PM
A plastic boy flies through the air on toy pterodactyls while a man with a bird-skull head looks through a porthole and naked black-eyed dolls levitate against a forested land. It's a fantastically macabre world that Scott Galloway has created through layers of digital montage, but one that in all but a few images is not fleshy enough, not palpable enough, to fully constitute a world of its own. The best of these possess a charm - and possession, as in the soul being taken over by another being, is apropos here - that recalls the invented worlds of fantasy writer Neil Gaiman and animator Jan Svankmeyer, where coyness winks at terror and the grotesque, making them serious playthings for readers and viewers. The more accomplished of Galloway's pictures do this too - in fact, the imp in Dark Impulse does it quite literally, eyebrows raised over a button nose, curved hat pointing up above gleaming red eyes. If the little devil weren't so creepily green, and if he weren't holding a mysteriously bubbly weapon, you might just want to take him home. That's the trick of the truly evil...
3/5/10 4:28 PM
Numbers fill our lives, running them on the clock, the calendar, the calorimeter. But what do they really look like? Sure, we all know what form Roman and Arabic numerals take, but these are, in the end, abstract signs that signify something else. Doug Titchenal has made a practice of figuring out ways, countless ways, of visualizing the numbers that add up our time, from the minutes of our days to the days of our years to the years of our centuries. The self-taught artist works with a strange yet irrefutable logic, employing colors and dots and geometric shapes to make sense of something so familiar that we most often take it completely for granted. And yet how peculiar and ungraspable it is the ways in which our days, our entire lives, are divided up into twenty-fours and sevens and three-hundred-and-sixty-fives. And yet, out of these numbers, which we all live by at least according to standard western calendars, Doug Titchenal pulls pictographs of an astonishing logic and order, so astonishing in fact as to constitute a kind of beauty, the kind most of us never see in numbers, except, perhaps, the number that constitutes the numerical content of one of his own works, which represents the 10,000 days of his own happy marriage.
3/5/10 5:03 PM
J. David Mitchell
If Henry Moore's monumental abstracted bodies were scaled down and slouchy, his sculptures might nestle up nicely next J. David Mitchell's. Smooth and curvilinear, bodily yet not, Mitchell's limestone and walnut pieces speak a mid-century sculptural language that would get them a wink, wink and a nudge, nudge from the master of granite forms. Sculptural practice has of course gone a ways since the days of Moore, moving further and further from the permanence of stone and the specialty of stone carving, ironically toward the ephemerality of found objects, assemblage and installation. Mitchell rigorously, firmly rejects these developments, insisting instead on sculpture as monument, on abstract form as meaningful, on stone and the labor it takes to carve it as worthy material and gesture. For Mitchell making work this way is a means of expressing a generation, the generation of today, an unexpected pronouncement from an artist so devoted to the language of yesteryear. Understood in terms of a rejection of today's throwaway culture and as an embrace of the knowledgeably retro, it all makes a kind of sense, if only one that looks backward in order to go forward.
3/5/10 5:24 PM
Pencil boats and wordy galleons, miniature Kiss frontmen and sly red foxes, Technicolor sages and fierce dragons - Joshua Ehlerding treats them all with deft precision and unexpected wit. The precision comes as no surprise, given Ehlerding's diagnosis of Asperger's Syndrome, a condition which lends itself mightily to the kind of attention to detail that makes the hairs on a fox stand out in all their softness and multiplicity. The wit, however, is something else entirely, and finds its most compelling expression in two boat pictures that take a twist on practices of drawing and writing. A colored pencil drawing of a Chinese junk takes its medium literally, imagining a boat and the sea on which it floats not just drawn with but literally made out of pencils. A pendant image of another grand ship constructs it and its ocean out of words, building everything from waves to sails out of the language which describes them. These and other works are primarily the result of assignments, and kudos to Ehlerding for responding to them with such verve. Best of all will be when he goes beyond these constraints and finds his own subject matter - keeping the detail and wit of an already blooming style.
3/6/10 4:55 PM
Draftsmen and painters must work to create pictures of interest, filling empty canvas and paper with fields and figments of pencil and acrylic, oil and ink. Photographers, by contrast, are tasked with finding those images and capturing them through the effect of light on film or, more recently, pixels and bits and however else it is that digital cameras function. Amateur photog Danielle Hart has taken that task and applied it to the various spaces of her own life, locating wonder at the baseball stadium and the beach, the ice rink and the alleyway. The odd angle at which she frames high-rises, the drip she locates so strategically on a statue's face, the diptychs she makes of a little girl facing the sea shore and wading in a man-made fountain, or of freshly zamboni'ed ice and a rink all scratched up with skaters - all of these sights are common enough, yet seen here with eyes wide open to them, wider open to them, than are most. On their own, not all of her pictures evidence the wonder with which they are taken as evidently as do others; pairings help, as do close-ups, and rightly so. Surprise often arises in the way things change from one moment to the next, from one line of sight to another, in juxtapositions of place, space and, most of all, expectation.
3/6/10 5:45 PM
Two-dimensional work is all too often taken at face value, as if it were really two dimensional, as if everything really lay on its surface. But masks hide faces, skin sheathes bone and sinew, muscle and flesh. In Ian Ruffino's prints, a top layer of paper often hides a remarkable density of material - and, it would seem, meaning. Take the work titled Misspelled Word. On its surface, an appealing enough abstraction of speckled pastel colors, textured stitching, punched holes and ballpoint pen striations. But the paper is sewn to something underneath it, layers and layers of thick handmade paper in shades of blue, grey and purple. Read the materials list and discover that these sheets are made from a year's worth of the artist's clothing. Why does he only wear clothes in colors of bruise? Why does he not have more clothing? Why was he willing, or desiring, to rid himself of all his clothes from that year? All of Ruffino's work functions thusly, with first impressions reading an abstract surface appealing enough but mostly a disguise of some sort for the complications hidden underneath and hinted at in the captions, which might list lint as a medium (whose lint?), or the layers themselves (what's on the surfaces we can't see?), or even the backside (why is the stitching so messy back there?). Ruffino's not going to tell us what it all means, but he seems to have made a project of hinting at its existence.
3/6/10 6:12 PM
Strange, sometimes marvelous things happen with shifts in scale. Scientists know this well, as does anyone who has ever had the pleasure of looking through the lens of a microscope or a telescope. Seen under magnifying glass, human skin transforms from a banal plane to a bizarre landscape of towering forests (hair) and fissured deserts (cracks, pores). The photographer's version of this is called macro photography, a term which designates close-up picture taking generally but more often refers to a specialized practice wherein natural and man-made objects and effects are captured in a way that reveals something astonishing at work. Sydney Schardt does just this, aiming her camera at real things that are almost impossible to identify from the pictures she makes of them. Instead of documenting things as they look to the perceptive naked eye, which is the task of the average photographer, she captures them in blown-up fragments, full of vivid, watery reflections and refractions. The results are fantastical abstract images spun, almost inexplicably, from the stuff of real life. The downside might be the images' very unlocatability - wondrous they are, but how to go back to reality and find that newly revealed wonder if we can't tell at all from whence it is generated?
3/6/10 6:39 PM
Heather Reese has a practice as unique as they come: working off her own large-scale abstract paintings, she interprets them both poetically and through dance, performing them into what must be whirlwinds of excitement and surprise. With Passion's Inevitability she scales back to a modestly sized acrylic canvas and leaves the performance at home - and the verve, too. A thick impasto of red, orange and yellow covers the picture's surface and makes it satisfyingly dimensional in places, too thin in others. Licks of flame dance across the picture but fail to tower high enough to envelop with the passion promised in the work's title. Pieces of square orange glitter shimmer here and there but are too few to sparkle the eyes wide open. Without the red-headed artist herself to swirl the painting into life, it needs, oddly enough, to be far smaller, allowing for the intensity which constitutes true passion to be able to express itself in mere paint and glue.
3/6/10 7:07 PM
Charles Ives, aka summerngreece, is something of a trickster. He fashions himself as a pop artist for today, borrowing imagery and ideas from, in order of appearance, Robert Rauschenberg (who invented the combine, a sculptural form of detritus collage), Jasper Johns (who reinvented the American flag as grounds for theme and variation), and Andy Warhol (who updated the icon to encompass celebrity and consumer culture), among others. His Ventriloquist's Ready-Made Combine pictures an American flag with the stripes courtesy cans of Campbell's Tomato Soup and the stars courtesy Marilyn Monroe; Combo-Meal does likewise with Marlboro cartons and Ronald McDonald. Kudos, Mr. Ives, for repackaging the vanguard art of 1955-1964 with goods that were relevant then and, amazingly, still are today. Kudos, too, for having a sharp enough eye to make smart-looking collage. But what, in the end, is the point? Or rather, what is the point of Charles Ives (or whoever he is)? What he seems to be suggesting, and sort of celebrating, is the rather cynical worldview that can't see anything except as derivative of something else. This is something that Warhol intuited but Rauschenberg and Johns, for all that they reused and reimagined, never did. But they were never really pop artists anyway. Thank goodness for that.
3/6/10 7:37 PM
Sometime in the 1990s photographers began to fashion themselves as filmmakers of a sort, creating still images that pictured scenes from films that never were. From Gregory Crewdson to Sam Taylor-Wood, this cinematic photography expanded the narrative capacity of the camera tenfold, creating a genre that began to give some credence to the old truism about pictures being worth a thousand words. Enter Luke Snailham, whose ambitious work aims to tell, in the severely limited space of a single frame, a story as bizarre as the one suggested in Untitled #2, 2.39:1. In the fountain of a mid-priced hotel lobby a man appears, out of nowhere, his naked body glowing with a blinding, unearthly light. Who is he? What does he want? Will he harm us or heal us? Snailham offers no answers to these questions, or any of the many others that could be asked of his oblique and singular image. That, in the end, is both the strength and the weakness of this style of picture making and also that which differentiates it most importantly from cinema itself: where the former traffics in the fragment, the latter traffics in the whole. A picture can tell a thousand words, but it can be almost impossible to tell exactly what those words are, and what million others they belong to.
3/6/10 8:30 PM
Our bodies are contradictory things, at once extremely fragile and surprisingly durable. Their strength depends in great part on that massive organ which covers our beings - namely, our skin. Their weakness is located in those places where the skin is broken, whether accidentally -cuts, punctures and other wounds - or by design - orifices. Molly Burke has made a study of this paradox through the most apropos of media, one which is known both for its solidity and its tendency to shatter: glass. Though Burke's glass sculptures resemble bodies in no obvious way, they nevertheless constitute astute and visceral investigations of them. Round and blobby, firm yet supple, their alternately pink, red, and black forms sprout fragile appendages. These small glass disks and rings make of the sculptures bodies with their hearts worn literally on their sleeves, their organs exposed to the elements, demanding to be cared for carefully, lest they be broken. Sometimes we need reminding that our own bodies, which house their organs so carefully inside, need an equal amount of care.
3/6/10 9:10 PM
One of the great ironies of contemporary art is how work made from familiar materials can sometimes be so confusing to so many people. How this transformation occurs varies from the deft painterliness of Jasper Johns' encaustic flags and targets to the casual assemblages of current sculptors like William Cordova. Or Jack Shifman. Take an untitled work by Shifman which consists of a beige heart-shaped soap and a dingy white plastic soap dish. What to make of them? They are unremarkable in every way, giving not a hint or a clue to the meaning that they must have, must have, if Shifman is bothering to display them as art. That, after all, is one of the givens of art, that it is worth wrapping one's mind and eye around, that there is something to be found on the other side, if one is just willing to look and thing hard enough. But, I'll admit it, Shifman's got me stumped. As far as I can see, it's just soap and a dish to put it in. What to do now except make some cheap pun about washing my hands of it all?
3/6/10 9:40 PM
The art history of minimalism and post-minimalism is a funny thing. Not funny ha ha but funny strange. What to do with work that registers not at all in reproduction, but which is so challenging to see in person today? Experimental work like Eva Hesse's has in many cases changed so radically in its material composition as to be almost unrecognizable in its current form. Hefty, threatening work like Richard Serra's needs to be experienced in person if it is to be felt at all. One solution, which seems to be that proposed by Nicole Langille, is to make work in the present that revisits the work of these and other related artists. Fortunately Langille does not do this literally; instead she makes drawings, sculptures and installations that reference, sometimes subtly, sometimes not, work by Hesse and Serra, as well as James Lee Byars, Richard Tuttle and Robert Irwin. At least, that's who I recognized. None of these artists are actually called out by name in Langille's work, and anyone who doesn't know their recent art history backwards and forwards would even get the references. But this doesn't necessarily even matter. The work of these historical artists was vanguard the first time round, and much of it is precious and lovely this second time, under Langille's care.
3/7/10 11:57 AM
Degas captured the chic, voluptuous caf singers of Impressionist Paris with awkward angles and sketchy, nighttime strokes. Matisse danced and glued vivid, quick color-paper cut-outs and called it Jazz. The history of artists representing music and musicians is long and loud, cacophonous and snazzy. Mark Bradford joins it with a modestly sized oil painting of an African-American musician playing the trumpet. Short, layered strokes are used here to good effect, especially on the trumpeter's brow, furrowed with the effort of making music, and his eyes, shut tight from the same exertion. The man's cheeks suck in with a breath and his lips are closed flat and wide, flush against the instrument's mouthpiece. A shame, that - after all, isn't the greatest vision of the trumpeter's playing the moment when his or her cheeks inflate portentously, puffed out with the potential of all the music to come? And therein lies the disappointment of this picture, which Bradford's titled Brass - it just isn't as brassy as it could be. At its best, a picture of music making conveys an exciting sense of musicality, of precise sounds emanating from vocal chords and carefully turned metal, string or wood. Here the parts are in place - mouth, hands, instrument - but the music isn't being heard.
3/7/10 12:35 PM
Wendy Phillips Yeager
The days of skin tone equaling a rosy white are long gone. Bodies now come in colors from yellow to brown, red to black, and every tone in between. Blue, however, is not and never will be one of these shades, at least not for pulsing, healthy figures. And yet blue is the color of the backs and torsos and faces that fill the frames of Wendy Phillips Yeager's oil studies, which show not corpses but living, breathing physiques, most of them female. Here blue is meant not literally but figuratively, or rather expressionistically, as a means of conveying what those bodies might be feeling, or else how the artist herself feels about them. Yeager is in good historical company when she takes this painterly liberty with her subjects - artists like Paul Klee and Edvard Munch long ago decided to morph bodies in one way or another so as to be able to express felt sentiments and not just seen forms. Where Yeager's work does this best is in her small-scale studies on board, where an intimate and honest connection with the singular subject is palpable, rather than in larger works like Embraced, where multiple subjects appear processed and distanced, fit into pre-existing situations rather than taken as they are.
3/7/10 12:54 PM
The Polish author and artist Bruno Schulz was killed by the Nazis for being a Jew, but he left behind a series of provocative children's murals, long faded but still potent, perhaps all the more so for their partial disappearance. The Italian painter Giorgio Morandi, who died of natural causes in the 1960s, was a prolific maker of subtle still lifes, delicately toned pictures of otherwise unremarkable bottles and jars. The Polish playwright Stanislaw Witkiewicz, who died in 1939 in relative obscurity, once wrote that "Art is the mystery of existence staring us in the face like a boar's head on a platter, as something tangible, seen, and not as a system of ideas." What all this has to do with the exquisitely understated drawings of Laura Bidwa is a testament to the richness of the artist's work as well as her generosity. Without the presence of these three late creators, whom Bidwa exhibits as source material, it would be difficult to fully grasp the profundity of her pictures. With them, the ways in which the past makes its way into the present, changed and faded but still traceable, begin to reveal themselves. How to register these kinds of marks in a created image seems to be the task that Bidwa has set for her own project, answering it with line drawings whose meticulously rendered forms recall old lithographs and are not afraid to disappear, to let stains and fingerprints and wood grain show through, to be quiet as death and just as present.
3/7/10 1:31 PM
KRA! KA PO! PONG! And a MERRYMERRY, too! These, as you may or may not know, are bird sounds, made by owls, penguins, and others which I can't quite so readily identify. These fowls and their feathered friends form the subject matter of a charming, chirpy series of hand-drawn cards by Pallavi Sen, where precise, inky pictures of woodpeckers and jays, flamingos and robins perch alongside hand-lettered renderings of their respective calls. Apart from the general loveliness of birds, the real appeal of Sen's pictures is two-fold. First, the meticulous doodliness of her renderings, which fit a wild array of patterns onto the feathered bodies of these two-legged creatures. Swirls and grids, diamonds and waves appear where none usually grow, but somehow the exaggerated decoration fits just right, a two-dimensional means of depicting the sheen and shimmer of feathers in flight, even if the bird itself is as plebian as a pigeon. Second, the hilarity of bird calls themselves, which range from the expected CHEEP and CAW to the strange YIS and the even stranger CHICATT. Pity the poor dodo, then, who appears without a call to its name, silenced by extinction.
3/7/10 2:06 PM
The confluence of cheap printing processes and urban consumer culture have long resulted in the papering over of cities with an ever-changing array of advertisements. In the 1950s a small group of Parisian artists, calling themselves the Affichistes (after the French word for poster, affiche), took to cutting down swaths of layered adverts and rehanging them in galleries. They presented exactly what they found on the street, thereby effecting a representation of their time and place. Matt Logsdon too creates dense collage works that resemble the messy paper visuals found on postered telephone poles and walls in the less tidy (read: not wealthy and not frequented by tourists) sections of our cities. What differentiates his practice from his predecessors is that Logsdon has chosen to return to the studio rather than make do with just the street. Instead of finding his compositions outside he creates them inside, oftentimes working with found paper but carefully and artificially crafting the dense, junky and aged thickness of compositions like Ganda and In Life You Never Know What's Going to Happen to resemble those of the urban environment. In a world of DIY everything, choose-your-own subculture, and constant web-based digital re-presentations of the self, his is therefore as much a fitting representation of today as the Affichistes was of their simpler one.
3/7/10 2:35 PM
Our bodies are at once extremely common and endlessly strange, full of equal parts banality and mystery, limitation and possibility. In her deceptively simple line drawings of anonymous figures and parts of figures, Sara Berens hints at this duality. To do this she uses a minimal tool bag of holes and bandages and knots, alternately poking through and tying up the bodies she depicts. Sometimes the result is a picture of exploration, as when a cross-legged woman pokes her finger in a hole, testing its composition, while a second hole rests on the center of her back, waiting to be poked by someone else. Elsewhere the result is an image of restriction, as when two legs, jutting out of two holes, are joined by a length of bandage that binds their unseen wounds and limits their mobility. In their plainness, Berens's drawings seem to function as directional pictograms, illustrations meant to explain a lesson to the viewer. The lesson here seems to be that bodies are far less straightforward than their familiarity might sometimes lead us to believe. A simple but strange truth told simply, as all strange things must be.
3/7/10 3:36 PM
So many obligations confront the serious artist that they must sometimes feel like blackmail. The obligation to choose a consistent style, to commit to a medium, to focus on a singular subject - not to mention the decidedly contemporary obligations to be ironic and conceptual, and to make art about art. In The Photographer's Brother, Francis Schanberger presents a series of photographic diptychs that solve this artistic crime without having to pay any ransom. Each pair presents a well-made print in one style or another joined together with a documentary image of the "photographer" at work making the image in question. The series thus moves from a romantic botanical still life of fresh beets to a modernist nature study of lichen to a conceptual depiction of foam peanuts, without ever seeming scattershot or amateur. On the contrary, Schanberger's titular conceit, that the photographer's "brother" is documenting him as he makes his images, holds together coyly but accessibly, allowing Schanberger to make whatever kinds of images he wants to, whatever their style or subject matter, while simultaneously taking a step back to make work that is also about making work. What keeps this last interesting is that in the images of the photographer at work it's impossible to tell what the final image will look like - and that, in the end, is why we continue to look at other people's pictures.
3/7/10 4:08 PM
Eyeglasses, snowflakes, chopstick wrappers, couch patterns, and overpasses - hardly the stuff of visual delight and wondrous attention, snowflakes excepted. And yet, in her drawings of these everyday subjects, Bridgette Bogle manages to make many of them unexpectedly sparkly and light, playful and pleasing. How she does this has something to do with a casual isolation of subject matter and a pairing of it with simple, decorative painterliness. More than anything, however, there's Bogle's choice of day-glo gouache as a colorful accent, throwing hot pink and chartreuse where none occur naturally. (As if they ever occur naturally!) Thus a heart-shaped box of chocolates which should read as cheap and common doesn't. Instead it's a jazzy, jubilant thing bursting with strange tastes and sparkling centers. The flowery pattern of a couch comes across not as an unfortunate decorative afterthought, better left in the 1980s, but rather as a quirky play of exotic and unnatural silhouettes colored by a decidedly vanguard mother nature. In some cases Bogle's light, quirky touch fails to defamiliarize the familiar enough to make it interesting - witness a pair of chunky, clunky spectacles and a bouquet of not-so-fresh roses. Rather than fail, though, these exceptions seem to testify to the artistic effort it takes to render the stuff of daily life as if it were in fact the stuff of some magical existence, a Midas touch not to be taken for granted.
3/7/10 4:33 PM
In Kenay Kash's not-very-alternate universe, Saddam Hussein is hanged on December 30, 2006, Osama Bin Laden is commemorated as a kind of currency, and the American dream is (mis)represented as being all about sexy ladies, cocksure men and cold hard cash. This, in effect, is not so far from the way things are. Although Kash reworks the thousand dollar bill, displays a nude woman as lewdly as possible, and depicts two of the more despotic figures of recent times with the respectful precision of intaglio or its approximation, it's hard to know just what his politics are and in what way he is trying to challenge the status quo. That he's trying is not in doubt - who else puts his own mug on the thousand dollar bill in place of President Grover Cleveland's, with his name tag as a watermark and his signature as Secretary of Business in place of the Secretary of the Treasury? Art can handle a whole lot of ambiguity and abstraction, in fact it handles it better than almost any other field, but art that deals in real politics demands either clarity or poetry, or some potent combination thereof. Alas Kash, or whatever his real name is, seems eager to enlist neither in his project.
3/7/10 5:12 PM
Somewhere in Columbus, Ohio, a young man named Luke Powers got turned on to Dada, and the rest, as they say, is history. History as in, hang a right at the cornfield, son, and don't get lost on the way to the kunsthaus. If none of this makes any sense to you, dear reader, dear viewer, fear not. The collage and assemblage work of Powers packs a kicky, kitschy punch, but also a slightly mystifying one. And that's fine, since Powers picks found objects primarily according to his own personal system of iconography, one that ranges from corn to cowboys, cows to the White House, polka dot bikinis to floral appliqu, with a few skeletons and organs and wise old owls thrown in for good measure. The result is a kind of thrift-store biographical self-portrait. There's no need to care about the particular artist who's being portrayed - whether it's a true portrait of Powers or not - the interest, rather, lies in the work's ability to stand as a portrait of the artist as a young man from middle America. And that it does, though the jury's still out on just how interesting a figure that young man might in fact be.
3/7/10 5:35 PM
My family never made home movies, and I've always been jealous of those kids whose archives contain old Super-8 reels, full of nostalgic static and fuzzy images, with their voices and pictures fresh from the past. In a short digital film titled Pancakes for Dad, 2009, Stacie Sells makes good use of such footage, or what seems like such footage (it isn't clear and doesn't really matter if this is in fact made from her own family legacy). The audio is pure childhood memory, a dad chit-chatting with his little girl named Stacie, and Stacie chit-chatting back in her sweet little girl voice. The video is something else entirely, a modernist dream of liquid white paint on a black ground, dripped and poured like a Joseph Albers or a Jackson Pollock or even a Linda Benglis, if she were ever in such a monochromatic mood. Or is it? Pancakes for Dad is, after all, shot with pancake batter and a griddle, but what it does with those simple materials is make fantastical visuals out of them, as the heat of the griddle transforms the batter from liquid simplicity to bubbling moon surface to crispy brown solidity. Sometimes the camera moves in so close that even these abstract visuals fall apart, and the pancake dissolves into glimmers and gleams, strange lens effects that dance around dizzy and magical. Delicious.