November 16, 2014

GLORIA GARFINKEL: Origami Interpretations

George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum / November 18, 2014 – April 26, 2015

The nature of inspiration is intertwined with idiosyncrasies of chance. When something as simple as an air flight layover leads an artist to encounter a single image that alters the course of her creative endeavor forever, one cannot discount the idea of fate. In the case of Gloria Garfinkel, this was exactly the circumstance that led to an ongoing body of work that constitutes a travelling solo retrospective soon to open at The George Walter Vincent Smith Art Museum in Springfield, Massachusetts. Garfinkel’s discovery and continued reckoning with an unusual work of art by 16th Century printmaker and painter Utagawa Hiroshige led to an esthetic grounding that motivated her to produce ten successive groups of work; each continuously revisited the traditional modes of Japanese  art and design, especially those that have informed modes of dress including the kimono and the obi, a sash used to close it, which itself has different social and economic associations. 

Since that day, Garfinkel has devoted herself to an esthetic suggested by Japanese art and design. Her inspiration has been taken not only by Hiroshige’s “Chrysanthemums in Fan-Shaped Design” but also by the variety and complexity of women’s kimonos and the sash (obi) that is worn with them. Garfinkel has combined the qualities inherent to her inspiration sources with a fascination with the generation of Color Field painters, who include Ellsworth Kelly and Ron Gorchov, artists who utilize the shaped contours of the canvas itself, manipulating it to project a visceral effect upon the viewer, merging the optical effects married to flatness with a participatory aesthetic to ignite the attention of the viewer. “Origami Interpretations” combines several distinct bodies of work that each achieve a heightened aesthetic despite a hybridization of means.    

One very important aspect to consider in viewing these works is the model from which they originate their aesthetic. It is important to remember, comprehend, and qualify the terms by which an image based in Design differs from that meant as Art. Perhaps we are talking apples and oranges here, but I feel that to be indiscriminate in our assumptions, and to commingle the two without an effort at parsing their alteration would be a disservice not only to the artist herself, and to the forms, but to the process and complexity of looking at both. Both art and design may be initiated with the sole purpose of establishing an esthetic for their shared era, and to reflect societal values as visual forms. Yet art so often represents a departure from authority, while design is used to underscore, and keep prevalent, aesthetic values that also become part of the social contract, supporting the identity of a man, woman, or child, stamping it with images, colors, and a mood or tone of social signage. Whereas art unless purely decorative can exist in and for itself, design always serves a larger master. Garfinkel identifies herself formally as a printmaker instead of as a painter, and she describes her process as essentially inductive, more based on emotion than on logic. The choices she has made to explore each of the stages in her progression of forms borrowed and inspired from Hiroshige. 

We begin our investigation of her production in the late 1980’s when she was creating her Ginkgo Kimono series. Of all her works these are characterized the most by a handmade, casual use of line, a collage-oriented sensibility, and a similar combination of natural images and minimal abstraction. The casual almost earthy quality of the lines demarcating each section one from the other and the structuring of line, in straight yet diagonal lines working at counterpoint to the square format of the base, like the contours of a fan, are other common qualities that identify it as related to the wellspring of her original inspiration. Yet the compression of detail and the effusion of contrapuntal colors identifies it as succinctly modern. There is both a merging and torsion of effect in Garfinkel’s version that plays to her own need to stamp the source material with her own vision, and perhaps in her desire to honor it, as a means of putting as much in each version to create a paradigmatic quality that plays to the heroic in Hiroshige’s original image. It’s as if she were not only evoking his work, but creating a mini-history of Japanese design commingled with folkloric iconology.  

The Kimono Hanabi (1992) series was created by combining fragments of previously produced etchings so that they would construct a small and intense yet complex work measuring no more than an average of 30 square inches. There is a patchwork quality to these works, which although maintaining a highly ordered sensibility were also constructed with sensuousness in mind, and they convince most in person, where one can perceive both the illusionistic qualities of crosshatching, wood grain, flower petals, manic stripes, and opulently layered solid colors such as red, green, and fuchsia as an interplay between a casual placement and the use of negative space to make the entire work float or vibrate. One could easily imagine these as immense paintings, though they  need not be larger to either convince or charm us. The second series create a similarly intense impression but are flatter, shinier, and less diffuse.

The Kyoto series (1994) is likewise inspired by design, but in this case they are organized around a grid structure that both makes an orderly image and creates a visual tension out of which the subtler background images, for the most part monochrome, generate an optical frisson that  reminds me of sunlight playing off the iridescent interior of sea shells. Each image is identified with a specific color that characterizes the majority of the ground area of the etching despite being split into multiples squares by a grid of wide dark lines usually in some adversarial color, such as Orange Squares and Purple Lines, or Purple Squares and Green Lines. This initiates a visual clash that manipulates the viewer into looking it the squares and noticing every minute difference between each one. If that were not enough Garfinkel likes to throw in a third color, something off the scale of the others, like a greenish yellow on the Purple/Orange axis, and a Tangerine Orange on the Purple/Green axis. These thrown off the viewer’s tendency to become obsessively embroiled in the magnetic quality of her etchings, which are both a micro verse of diverse designs using the same colors, and a macro verse, made large by being given a scale altered by the aperture of the print, which shows a protracted and intimate view of each one, hinting at the complexity of diverse unseen areas beyond the visible.
In 1994 and 1995 Garfinkel begins her Hanabi series, which are small scale mock-ups meant as large scale sculptural installations in both interior and exterior areas. They are constructed by combining multiple isosceles triangle forms in an arc or network, an animal, or an architectural structure. On each triangle is a different design evocative of the sorts of  abstract images common on kimonos. Though it is not entirely necessary to know this fact to enjoy them as objects, it does fill in the blanks as to the sources from which the images come, and their combination, not only an illustration upon a flat surface, animated by the interlocking and flowing of triangular plates, the scale of the actual sculptures, and the synergy they have with the environments into which they are placed, expands and compounds the sense of intense detail and overall wonder that they bring. 

Next follows the Kiku series (1998), which diverge yet again but keep true to the combination of organic and synthetic forms combining to give a version of the world in which sensuality and phenomena play an equal part. At first she applies a large mono print consisting of wide blue lines similar to the ones appearing in Chrysanthemums, and then she treats the finished surface like a canvas, grouping, alternating, and layering sections of etching and mono-printing in chromatic clusters, like sections of leaves in progressive psychedelic decay, right next to one another, in some cases so tightly that they merge and overlay with one another. It resembles a form of abstract map-making. The central image has an overly mottled appearance, like a multicolored relic from the dim ancient past. These are perhaps Garfinkel’s most impressive works up to this point, for not only do they reach an apex in expressing the timeless ideal found in Hiroshige’s Chrysanthemums, but they also do so with a very modern feel. There is nothing homespun about them. If anything they are proof positive that the artist has achieved a level of expression idiosyncratic and polished and radically different from her source material. 

Garfinkel begins the new millennium with two series, the Kado (2000) which appears quite restrained, almost a throwback to elements of her Ginkgo Kimono series, and the Obi series (2001-02), which is her most daring yet. The Kado prints are split into two sections, severed diagonally, and are characterized by a strong flatness of color adjoined by strong, clear lines that suggest skin, shells, veins, and feathers, while the colors used reference age and decay. They are both strong expressions of elemental qualities and in some way represent a punctuation, a pause, and a release from the linear and imagistic work of her past.   

 The Obi series, by comparison, are dynamic and almost heroic. These are the first of Garfinkel’s series to take its concept directly from the traditional mode of dress practiced not only by Chinese and Japanese women but common all over the Asian world for the last several centuries. In each work the small consistent pattern above represents the kimono itself, while the larger section below represents the Obi. What is important to remember in gazing at these works, is that for all their intensity, they are inspired by, and modeled after a type of clothing that was specifically designed not only to differentiate unmarried from married women, but to place them in a hierarchy of institutional possession, and that the degree of design imparted to each individual Obi was a means by which they married woman in question had some power over how she might be perceived socially. The colors act both as patterned plumage and also as clannish markings similar to a Scottish tartan or the shield ornaments of European Medieval armor. They are also a form of social armor, a statement of idiosyncrasy within the embattled and circumscribed role of the supreme woman of the house, honorably presenting her husband’s honor while at the same time making a presumptuous and self-entitled statement about her self-worth to the entire community. The presence of flowers and stripes in the Obi series straightforwardly references Hiroshige but does so with aplomb and grace.  

Just ahead of the new decade, Garfinkel begins a new series that departs from the Hiroshige work but takes a partial inspiration from many of the combined series that have emerged from under its shadow. Her Flip and Circle paintings (2008) are her most contemporary. They each use metal surfaces that are painted using the sort of industrial pigment used to cover automobiles and motorcycles, giving a hard, sharp, and solid feel to the colors. Both series are arranged so that viewers can interact with them, either moving on or more panels up, down, fold it inside another, or turn different panels so that the visual reading from right to left, changes with each random gesture. 

These works depart greatly from her past ones both because of the metal understructure, the solid chromatic quality, the choice of the viewer to affect what they are seeing and how the color will affect their memory of the primary aesthetic experience, and finally, the only thing to remind them of her past work is the use of pattern; the alternating, ambivalent, nearly counterintuitive ability Garfinkel has to let the eye make its own decisions. No matter how many options she throws into the mix, there is always an option to reduce via optical distance the forms and methods used to achieve a lasting impression. The Japanese of Hiroshige’s era perceived Chrysanthemums as a symbol of honesty, and Garfinkel has reinvigorated the idea of visual honesty for a generation of Western viewers who in looking at a work from the 16th century might be only apt to see an alien sensibility framed by spiritualism, traditions in artistic practice, and the desire of Hiroshige himself to create something idiosyncratic if not radically new. It took 20th century eyes like her own to bring it to bear in the modern world, and Garfinkel’s view has been clear from the start.  

November 4, 2014


Curated by Robert Curcio

526 West 26th Street, New York / November 6-29, 2014

The dozen works which comprise the retrospective of Rob Mango each in their own way represent a watershed event in the artist’s development or life experiences that he unknowingly shared with others. If the artist is the representative idealist for our time, believing in ideas and manifesting expressions that are purer and more primal than the product of any other industry or milieu, then Rob Mango is one of the best versions of such a figure. His work is emboldened by the idealism associated with formalism, its relevant social conscience, and a measure of idiosyncrasy, all without equal. Each of the works on view has a specific story to tell.  

The Superman Theory (1984-88), is both a cabinet of curiosities and a hall of heroes. It occurs quite early in Mango’s artistic career, shortly after he first moved to New York, a period when he was momentarily breaking with the realistic painting that was his known métier in order to allow himself to be influenced by an alternative set of esthetic parameters: to create objects instead of images. This is a most radical move for someone who actively identifies as a realistic painter, in that it operates as a functional object, a system of drawn icons, anchored by an abstract totem in the middle. It opens and closes, has interior illumination, a classification of heroic depictions, and the belief that truth can emerge from a morass of agendas. The hero-worshipper in Mango could not reasonably divorce himself from the figures who preceded him. To create a closet of sorts he has to fill it with something and if memories would not do, then heroes were the next best step he could make to reveal himself without making the plain facts known, but instead to present the varied opaque figures who had influenced him individually and en masse, each one contributing to the person he was.   

Amiss in the Abyss (1989) presents the very first manifestation of a figure that was to loom large in Mango’s personal mythology: The Jester. Born out of the bleakness of Medieval European life, the Jester is the origin of today’s circus clown, though his function serves more than mere comedy. It relates to a perverse view not only of everyday life but also of the authority of kings and princes. The Jester wore a crown and carried a scepter, placing him in the role of ruler or wizard, an authority over frivolity and distraction. Yet the Jester was also used to mock authority to its face, and many of them were employed by courts of kings to provide a sly commentary on the issues of the day, even going so far as to criticize the ruler to his or her face, which was in some cases encouraged and welcomed despite the outcome. In Mango’s work the Jester is a totem for the possibilities of inspiration, a madcap reactionary who is also an artist—painting directly out of their soul onto the very fabric of reality. In this work the Jester carries a paintbrush, and its antics are depicted as if it were a dance. All around the Jester is the veil of existence, a void of darkness behind it, and the colors it paints lighting up the road ahead. This jester is Mango’s foil and the void is his soul.

Self Portrait with Swans (1992-93) is a further manifestation of spiritual reality, a scene that emerges out of the fantasy that is Venice, with regal homes supported over canals that are populated with graceful swans. They are a spectacle of effervescent beauty stared at by a masked figure who may be Mango himself, or the entire painting may be intended as the Self Portrait, a dynamic of introspection and absorption with the sources of inspiration, real and mythological, that such a place can impart to the passive mind. The face that looks out from the middle section as if out of a dream looks curious, malevolent, and masked it evokes a Commedia della Arte dramatic persona, not exactly a person. A dreamy and intense image this still feels like a mental footnote among images dedicated to larger themes. 

Krishna Passing the Wheel of Fortune on the River Ganges (1993) presents a vague and complicated symbol that is an admixture of questions about spirituality; the nature of existence; and the connection between belief, culture, nature, and locale. It reads as a mental game the artist is playing to drive questions to the surface rather than to merely present a demonstratively oblique scenario, though there is that too. From what I have read about the legends surrounding Krishna, he is identified either as a divine figure or as the messenger or servant of one, and there is a lot of commentary (read:doubt) as to the veracity of his existence, except that in various cases Krishna  serves the purpose of combining various historical myths and their related agendas. The purity of a symbol and the complexity of its authoritative reception over time are two contexts that attract Mango. The painting itself, which depicts the person of Krishna standing at the base of a raft that also supports a Wheel of Fortune, which in the nomenclature of Tarot, represents the intercession of random chance into the Fool's path (the Fool being all that is human). Atop the wheel, as if waiting en masse at the edge of the Ganges, is a mass of men, or spirits of men, mulling in mindlessness, looking on but only spectators of the scene before them. They are perhaps all the others, those who are not the artist, who autobiographically casts himself as the Warrior/God/Messenger/Fool. The complete symbol that the painting suggests is oblique and loaded, and is left up to the ages to be interpreted or fulfilled. 

Strong Jester (2003) was the last known version of the jester that looms large within the known pantheon of Mango’s preferred symbols. He paints him as a modern strong man, a stern countenance matched by his rippling muscles and the heroic stance he takes with his paint brushes, coloring a roll of cloth to match the rainbow of his crown, as if illustrating the dimension from which he first emerged, and the world he must inhabit to remain a potent presence: celebrating joy while challenging authority. He shows how he has grown strong, with the power to survive oblivion.  

Burial at Sea (2004) is a symbol for emotional closure in dealing with the tragedy of 911 and the many deaths, the suffering of multitudes, and the chaotic transformation of his home and neighborhood into a burnt offering for the clash between cultures. The painting depicts the whole city seen from the perspective of Lower Manhattan, of which Tribeca is a part, and what is specifically narrated is the mass floatation of carriers filled with innumerable dead, offered up in the spirit of the moment by King Tut, a boy king who lived and became legend, like many of the people who died on 911. Mango depicts his huge form, his face frozen in a mask of mourning, his bronze body glowing like gold and he lays mass coffins into the New York harbor to be towed away by the Staten Island Ferry. The Hudson River flows down to the harbor in long graceful currents that immediately become chaotic eddies, wakes from boats, and mini maelstroms all vying to carry the vessels away into the netherworld. The city behind Tut compresses all the major skyscraper monuments that seem to blow like wheat in the wind, bowing in honor to this final event.    

No Room For Doubt (2012) this very recent work by Mango is considerably simpler in overt subject matter: a female body, depicted in the nude, yet abstractly realized. It’s necessary to look beyond the simplicity of the subject, which is not just  woman’s body, but also the artistic process of perceiving and realizing its representation in a mode other than straight depiction. The title of the work has to do with the formal structuring of the work mingled with his stated dedication to a subject which has proven divisive among different  viewers of his work. The depiction of women as objects, specifically as morphed and manipulated forms, has generated some criticism of an unwelcome nature. Yet for Mango he considers it a return to dedicating himself not only to a matter of form, to art historical eras and figures such as Pablo Picasso and Willem De Kooning, whose work informed his own, and in adding to the sum total of what he can create. Yet I feel that Mango goes beyond all these things. He creates a contemporary manifestation about an idealized subject, adds a contemporary form and materials, and in the end the theme is not only the subject, but the attitude to which the work itself contributes. It becomes a form of self-affirmation. Since this work he has created many other versions that have yet to be seen.      

Woman in High Backed Chair (2014) was painted a full two years after “No Room For Doubt” and it presents us with a version of the same process but an example in which the artist is more comfortable with his subject, and can say as much with the background as he can with the figure and its composition. The thick color of the background matches the seeming heaviness of his materials, which are in fact the exact opposite, and the woman in question, who sits with legs crossed and her head resting on one shoulder, contemplating a subject known only to her. Mango takes nothing away from the woman as a figure because he invests her with an interior life which we cannot doubt. Her beauty is a combination of body, soul, and the world that swirls around her, making a locus of intense personal energies. 


Samraat Running Free (2014) is painted in a similar but much more idealized form, a paean to the purity of athleticism, a love for the domesticated or trained animal that despite the specificity of its training and the end to which purpose it is directed, can yet be appreciated in both intimate and grandiose terms; a type of idealized competition that takes much of the ego out of the game. A horse runs races. There is something very noble and yet primal about this, something envious and appreciable, even to someone as tyro as Mango himself.  He can project himself, as a runner, upon the form of the horse, and appreciate the duty and challenge it faces. It is merely being trained to do something its body is made to do, but do it in an extremely efficient and dynamic fashion. It doesn’t take much to find ourselves on equal ground with Mango’s appreciation for Samraat. The role of the horse in contemporary sport is timeless and yet also unique. Far back in history, horses were a part of many aspects of daily time. They were used to pull the plow in farming, the carriage or rider in the street or road, and they were used in competitive sports such as racing and polo, some of which date back to the origin of the Olympics in Classical Greece. Man’s relationship to nature was defined almost solely by his use and love of horses which, among all the animals of the farm, most embody strength, intelligence, and emotional response to their environment. His painting is not only a depiction of a champion but also his wish that Samraat can earn his due, to run free, happy and natural in the world that was made for him.   

While some may view the consistent manifestation of symbols in ROB MANGO: A RETROSPECTIVE as a form of idealistic expression, and as a way of avoiding a personal statement, it is perhaps indulgent to expect an artist to make mere declarations of his works. Mango needs to create his own versions of the symbols that populate them, making them idiosyncratic, and allowing the world to peer into his reality. If  the view they provide is ambiguous or complex, then that is the struggle of the viewer. Mango leaves it up to them to make of it what they will.  

August 10, 2014


I find the experience of reading a really good book on an artist or art subject nearly as satisfying as the art event itself. Perhaps better in the context that a book can cover many events while at the same time investigating a myriad of ideas related to it. A very good book on a movement, perception, or specific artist does all of this.

So as an alternative to the arduous task of leaving home, struggling across the city through public transportation, and dashing to make sure the seamless doors of galleries don't slam in my face before I have a chance to breathe their rarified air and exist in the same gravity as their images and objects--I plan on spending a lot of time with my art books, and you will read all about it here.

August 6, 2014


In the past the focus of this blog was on reviews, the sort that filled the end pages of many art magazines in the 1960's back to the 30's, a windy sometimes snarky prose that held little flashes of humanity. Starting now I shall not limit my quips to reviews, but will write extensive musings on artists and art subjects, sometimes over several non-sequential posts. Currently I am investigating my fascination with the Environmental artist Olafur Eliasson, and I am reading through the Phaidon Press volume dedicated to his work and ideas. Expect several posts on different sections or aspects of the book.

July 23, 2011

Monkey Spoon at Kim Foster Gallery

Review by Jill Conner
“Monkey Spoon,” curated by D. Dominick Lombardi features work by ten artists who simultaneously create and deconstruct the romanticized myth of bohemian life. The collective quest for the urban legend spurs an array of creative curiosities. But in a city full of diverse cultures and brimming information, the desire to create something new becomes a weight as opposed to a challenge even though one’s reality is not the same as another. “Monkey Spoon,” operates from the space of difference and elicits one paradox after another. Suspended between metaphor and everyday experience, this exhibition captures an imperfect, if not unglamorous, reality.

Nesega Mythology (2011) by Dan Hernandez

The show opens with six mixed-media panels by Dan Hernandez that impose fictitious video-game landscapes upon cracked surfaces, rendering a fake but antiquated, archaeological flair. These pieces not only reveal the a-historic phenomenon brought on by digital technology but also the shortsightedness of the present. However the process of looking underscores much of this show, embedding surprises in the details.

WPA Girl (2011) by Christian Faur

The “Melodie” series (2011) by Christian Faur consists of nine 15-inch square frames that represent the same portrait using a different arrangement of hand-cast crayons. By returning to the physical pixel, Faur explores the artifice of digital imagery. Peter Drake, however, reaches for the discourse of Realism in two paintings titled “Shrapnel” (2007) and “Tripod,” (2008) that represent unfocused depictions of small action figures which once belonged to his father.

Shrapnel (2007) by Peter Drake

Lori Nix and Susan Wides present an even more layered juxtaposition in their photographs of familiar interior settings. “Museum of Art,” (2005) by Nix captures a non-specific museum interior. The title also rings generic much like her piece from 2006 titled, “Vacuum Showroom.” However the objects in this second piece are spindly and fragile, revealing this photograph as the representation of a miniaturized, doll-house setting.

I, Mannahatta (2010) by Susan Wides

“I, Mannahatta” (2010) by Wides depicts a ferris wheel towering over three different shopping levels. The miniature and the gigantic weave throughout the picture plane, distorting the sense of space and time. Additionally, the slight blur in the image gives the impression that Wides was also exploring the staged miniature. However this picture represents a true setting, that within the Toys ‘R Us store located in Times Square, New York.

Act I (2003) by Kendall Messick

Photographic narrative takes further twist in the work of Kendall Messick, who documented the later years of Gordon Brinckle, the Everyman World War II Veteran who lived as a reclusive eccentric in Delaware. Messick captures Brinckle in a number of different settings within his house. Much like Joseph Cornell, Brinckle was a cinema enthusiast. However he transformed his desire into a life-size movie theater, located in the basement of his home.

Red Seat Guitar (2005) by Ken Butler

A series of sculptures by Ken Butler also expands on the marginal but in terms of musical entertainment. Butler reconstructs throw-away objects, such as a laptop or a school chair, into functional musical guitars, challenging the adage “form follows function.” Similarly, Dominick Lombardi’s “Urchin”-series (2011) explores the fictional life of a dog, made out of sand and discarded containers. The ephemeral nature of each piece resonates most strongly.

Urchin #30 (2011) by D. Dominick Lombardi

Throughout this show fantasy and reality repeatedly collide. My reality is not your reality. The odd, alien-like “Flowbots” made by Joseph JK5 Aloi on view are also sold as toys in Japan. These small quirky figures compliment his lyrical, arabesque drawings that delve into his personal history. In addition the precarious tilt and imbalance seen in John H. Howard’s surrealist sculptures challenge perception but not physics. The exhibition “Monkey Spoon,” first emerged from a misheard word. From there, Dominick Lombardi put together this exhibition that explored the undefined, serendipitous nature of subjectivity, confirming the fact that not one thing is ever the same.

April 27, 2011

Eliza Thomas at Wally Workman Gallery | Austin, TX

Untitled Moon and Branches, 2011 by Eliza Thomas

Review by Jill Conner

The new series of black and white paintings by Eliza Thomas are intricate. They navigate the viewer through fields of gray, the motif of uncertainty, while bringing one into thickets of branches, blossoms and leaves. Naturalism is a significant subject for the artist since its form is at once lyrical and rhythmic, bearing a strong resemblance to Asian calligraphy. Also known as the dynamic moving line, Thomas’ paintings connect nature to the larger scope of humanity by embellishing the illusion of the third dimension, located within the representation of the outlying landscape. Her palette, moreover, captures a wishful, open space that is immediate yet ephemeral. This selection of work marks the artist’s foray away from color and into the complexity of two tones, created by the wash and line of ink and paint across the sheer surface of rice paper.

Oak Study I is a large piece that features a web of black branches intersecting within similar silhouettes of gray, stalling movement and bringing pause. Two larger panels titled Distance and Oak Study V expand on the visual vista even though the second piece appears interlaced with branch-like forms. In both paintings, a horizontal line splits the composition in half, rendering a foreground and background, which pushes the eye to wander throughout the artist’s layered traces.

Untitled 9, 2011 by Eliza Thomas

The rush of white that appears in No Return suggests fluid movement rather than a static portrait of naturalism. However Shadow Study is less elusive, capturing the spider-like gray form of vines that are nearly swamped by the pale color of rice paper. An exceptional series of blossom studies appear in For Gary, Wild Orchids, and Untitled 9, using the traces of ink wash and acrylic to define these icons of nature as objects of a contemplative ambiance.
Eliza Thomas’s abstractions stand out as the strongest works of art in this new selection of work due to the fact that their ambiguity keeps them suspended within the space of interpretation. Having studied sumi-e ink painting with the Japanese Zen master, Shozo Sato, Thomas utilized her studies in black and white to commune with the moving line that has wound itself throughout the vast history of Asian art. The artist’s paintings, however, remain contemporary as each panel reveals a different kind of creative experimentation with traditional Western media.

August 8, 2010

Brent Green at Andrew Edlin Gallery

House Opened Up, Mixed media, 2010

Review by Jill Conner

Since 2005 Brent Green has transformed unique but mundane narratives into quick, sporadic short films that appear as ephemeral and authentic as found objects while exposing the jitteriness of a self-taught artist. This characteristic sets Green’s work free from the bind of history and keeps it original rather than redundant. The artist’s most recent work titled, “Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then” (2010) initially appeared in two locations, at the International Film Center and the Andrew Edlin Gallery. Along with the artist’s blue-grass style of music, the film and the movie sets recreate a sentimental story about an outsider who lived in Kentucky and built a tall, winding house in order save his ailing wife’s life. Sanity slips away as reality meets fiction and quickly becomes another place, spinning Green’s most recent piece into a transgressive tale.

Mary's First Memory, video still 2010

Several years ago, Green was notified about an architectural anomaly outside of Louisville, Kentucky, shortly before it was torn down. While the artist studied and documented the structure, he got to know the life story of Leonard Wood, someone nobody knew but who worked at a small hardware store. With barely any money in his bank account throughout his life, Wood was clairvoyantly resourceful, inventing solutions to problems that had no answer.
“Gravity” is the artist’s first short film that involves actors rather than puppets or plastic cells of animation. True to style, these actors are not professional and their dialogue is mostly substituted by Green’s spirited narrative. Filmed in the backyard of Green’s home in Pennsylvania, this piece embellishes the details of an odd life lived in the rural countryside.

Mary with Moon, video still, 2010

Nobody knows where Wood came from, or his wife for that matter, but when they met their friendship carried a unique chimera. The crux of the movie shifts quickly into Wood’s focus on illness and his intent to build a tall, winding house into the sky as some sort of healing machine, destined to save his wife. The Andrew Edlin Gallery featured Green’s rendering of Wood's interior, which looks like it came straight from a fairytale. In France, this type of fanciful thinking is referred to as “Art Brut.” At the edge of sanity, a creative avant-garde swirls but often leads nowhere. Green states that Wood continued to build this structure, long after his wife’s death, until he fell to the ground and spent the rest of his life in a nursing home. Regardless, this short film is deeply memorable due to its erratic, nontraditional structure.

Julie Mehretu at The Guggenheim Museum

Atlantic Wall, 2008-09

Review by Jill Conner

In November 2007 Julie Mehretu appeared on a panel held at Carnegie Hall titled, “Canvas Berlin: Europe’s New Capital of the Visual Arts,” where she expressed a newfound amazement with a city that has been legendary for its history of prolific artists, intellectuals but most of all anti-Semitism. As part of the “Berlin in Lights,”-festival, this panel attempted to clear the air and bring renewed visibility to this historically volatile city, a characteristic that surfaced in the diaries of Harry Graf Kessler, first published in 1971 with the same title. Unlike American abstract paintings which are visually weighted down by the density of the medium, Julie Mehretu has constructed different notions of space, similar to New Objectivity paintings that initially appeared at the Guggenheim when it first opened in 1959. Set within one of the museum’s small side galleries, Mehretu’s paintings immediately wall the viewer into a small space while setting them free, visually. Each painting is 10-feet by 14-feet and pulls one into the scope of illusionistic space, one that is so random such that light and movement work together and entirely skirt metaphor.

“Fragment,” (2008-09) for instance, features a swirl of black and gray clouds that burst out from the intricate line- and lattice-work seen below. Slight outlines of architectural structures appear in the margins but their skeletal forms are entirely secondary, an afterthought. On the other hand, “Berliner Plätze,” (2008-09) captures a layered, terraced and woven image of various motley stone buildings that populate each one of this city’s famous gathering points. Unlike most urban centers, the metropolis of Berlin consists of many, speaking not only to its vast population but its character of complexity.

“Atlantic Wall,” (2008-09) reveals an even more dense selection of markings that tag, cross-out, highlight and deconstruct the subject all at once. “Believer’s Palace,” (2008-09) and “Notations,” (2009) are less colorful and carry a dense gray-scale. However both reflect an intensity that surpasses the others, confirming that the subject of these Berlin-inspired paintings is that of construction and destruction, a dichotomous relationship that is never reconciled. “Middle Gray,” (2007-09) rounds out this small suite and, as the oldest, reflects more of the arabesques and color palette that is characteristic of Mehretu’s style.

In the Spring of 2007, Mehretu was awarded the Guna S. Mundheim Visual Arts Fellow at the American Academy in Berlin which led the artist into a two-year investigation of the city as well as its space, history and people that ultimately culminated in “Grey Area,” a series of six paintings that premiered at the Deutsche Guggenheim in October 2009 before traveling to New York City in the Spring on 2010. Berlin is a complicated city for too many reasons to name. The 1927 silent film titled, “Berlin: Symphony of a Great City,” attempted to capture this Post World War I metropolis as one that was still very much connected to the world, an international hub where many desired to travel to and from. But that was six years before Germany’s decade-long fascist era, one that nearly eliminated the city’s prolific history. Now that the German government has relocated its headquarters to Berlin, along with a handful of curious artists, intellectuals and voyeurs, Mehretu suggests that this can be done again, successfully.

John Wesley at Fredericks & Freiser Gallery

Leche, 1973

Review by Jill Conner

By 1970 critics had decided that abstract painting was dead, an empty genre, while the industrial forms of Minimalism populated galleries and museums, heralding in the new. Following the cosmetic characteristic of Abstract Expressionism, when color and beauty trumped catharsis and reality, the success of figurative painting was identified in the articulation of flat forms, as seen in advertising graphics. Artists such as James Rosenquist, Alex Katz, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann and Roy Lichtenstein satisfied consumer demand, providing viewers with sterile icons and images of themselves that were empty of criticism but flush with fantasy. John Wesley’s pop-style paintings features in “May I Cut In? Important Paintings from the Early ‘70s,” at the Fredericks & Freiser Gallery, balanced reality with fantasy depicting men, women, children and animals as stoic as Henry Darger’s “The Vivian Girls,” but even more sexually subversive, with a focus on bestiality.

Canada's Toughest Soldier, 1973

Canada’s Toughest Solder (1973) portrays an identical man and woman standing together staring blankly out at the viewer and framed with an array of Canadian maple leafs. In a dark twist, Wesley exposes the flake of Canadian society caused by the shadow of America and its thirst for international war. Yet at the same time, the artist utilizes this irony as a progressive suggestion for the USA. Mail Order Blues (1972) however, depicts a reclining nude woman and associates her untouched body with the guitars above. A series of hands scaling guitar frets appear below, and add a teasing flair to this flat, blue background piece. A similar theme of sexual longing appears in Sleep (1971) Pastel yellow fills the background as a nude woman reclines against her partner’s feet, with her face turned away. Wesley is a master of mystery since it is not clear if the subject is experiencing sleep, rejection or a combination of the two.

Mail Order Blues, 1972

A new take on Greek mythology appears in Leda and the Man (1972) a spoof on the legend of Zeus as goose who once seduced Leda, the Queen of Sparta, as she slept next to her husband. However Wesley turns this theme around and portrays a sock-footed nude man who chases a frantic goose, Queen Leda. This strange sexual tension continues to assert itself in “The Last Gray Hound,” (1971) that portrays an old man bending down in front of a tall-standing gray hound dog. Two others appear on the right, arching back and lying on the floor, but wearing pink clothing like the one seen on the left. Whether this is intended to be a joke about extraneous sports like dog-racing or gymnastics, Wesley suggests that beast and man have managed to exist far more closely than thought.

Sleep, 1971

Leche (1973) broaches the fiery topic of racism in a very multilayered fashion. A blonde woman wearing a blue skirt-suit sits on a stool to the left holding a glass of milk, or “leche,” as it is known Spanish. Three identical young girls lean in this woman’s direction, except the one closest to the glass is slightly darker than the other two, suggesting a bi-racial otherness that almost camouflages with the other figures in the painting. The savagery of class differences appears in Slave (1971) which simply portrays three gray kangaroos facing each other in the background as one holds onto the leash of small gray dog who stands at the center in the foreground.

Slave, 1971

This selection of paintings by John Wesley utilizes the style of Pop art to render dreams, fantasies and taboos that have been continually left out of mainstream discourse due to their sensational content. Moreover, by setting these frozen moments upon yellow and blue backgrounds, the artist creates a psychological ease and frames these ideas as separate icons even though they first appear to be further from any truth. Dreams are never linear but are rich in everything disorderly, telling us more about our orderly selves. Despite this bit of insight, fantasies cannot be packaged and sold like products, leaving them tucked far away within the margins of society.