"Water, Water," curated by Lilly Wei, Apr. 3-May 17, 2003, at the Rotunda Gallery, 33 Clinton Street, Brooklyn, N.Y. 11201
Water evokes associations both primordial and mundane, and can be found throughout the history of the visual arts. In "Water Water," a recent group show of contemporary art organized by the critic Lilly Wei, the overall impression was a little like surfing through a tunnel capturing some youthful artistic currents along the way. The guiding spirit was aptly suggested by Drew Heitzler's video installation, Subway Sessions (2002), that begins with a guy waxing down a board before heading out to catch a tall wave.
This show seemed especially site-specific thanks to the flight of shallow steps that lead from the gallery's entrance down to its main space. The illusion of a surface of wind-blown water was given by Michael Krondl's seven-foot-long length of inkjet-printed vinyl, titled Waterwalk (Rotunda) (2003). Installed on the floor, at first glace the piece was uncannily real, causing a hair-raising chill.
Mechanized gadgetry was used to present water consistently throughout two installations. Shift (2003) by Claudia Schmacke pumps neon-yellow water through bundled transparent tubing that the artist constructed into three separate spheres. Simon Lee's Unflooded (2003) functions in a similar abstract manner, projecting the illuminated surface of a water tank upon the wall across the room. Silhouettes of floating objects are thus magnified, giving the impression of a magnified kaleidoscope.
These two sophisticated pieces contrast markedly with Katherine Bradford's oil painting titled Swimmer, Man (2001), which depicts the generic figure of a faceless man floating in a sea of blue. Lacking any particular style, Bradford's work strikes a balance between folk and leisure genres. Sebastiaan Bremer's altered photographs lend three-dimensional forms to the hypnotic effect created by ocean waves. Buoyant (Pool I) and I Held My Breath for 13 Hours (Pool II) (2000) are meticulously patterned with small white dots that delineate and deconstruct stills of aquatic movements.
Two additional videos explore the otherwise mundane properties of H2O. The Long Dissolve (1998) by Burt Barr documents an ice cube melting in a clear glass dish. Even though the artist used video techniques to speed up this process, the depicted event is too immediate and does not assert an extraordinarily creative idea beyond the framework of sign and signified. Fountain (1999) by Patty Chang is so much sexier by comparison. Driven by fantasy, a young Asian woman kisses her own mirror reflection as small, subtle ripples drift away from the point of contact.
The show also presents the fluidity of water within concrete, material forms. Two 8 x 11 canvases titled Positive Landscape #12 and Positive Landscape #14 (both 2001) by Susan Rabinowitz each represent a co-mingling of light yellow and blue oil paint that swirls together for random fluid effects. Artistic medium also generates the aquatic idea in Arlene Shechet's Casting Water: River Leak (2002-03), which is an installation of pigmented cast-rubber set intermittently within the grove located between the walls and floor, distinctly giving the impression that the cement structure is in the process of liquefying.
Set on a step, upon a balcony and in a corner, Mary Carlson's three ice-cube sculptures made from water-coated glass directly mimic the frozen substance as it thaws. James Sheehan's The Empiricist (2003) is a visual tease. Measuring about two inches square, the work depicts an extremely blurry view of a lake shore with densely applied oil colors. As if to assure against uncertainty as to what is depicted, a small magnifying glass hangs on the wall nearby.
None of the works in this show are particularly complex, though the representation of artistic media is quite diverse. Lilly Wei's "Water, Water" definitely served to bid the memory of cold weather good-bye while welcoming the summer months to come.
JILL CONNER writes art criticism for NYArts, Sculpture and Contemporary Magazine.