In his recent New York Times review of the "Carnegie International" at the Carnegie Museum in Pittsburgh, critic Ken Johnson disparaged what he termed "designer art" for being emotionally remote and technically overrefined. Personal idiosyncrasy, Johnson wrote, loses out to commodity polish.
The Brooklyn artist Dannielle Tegeder, now making her second solo outing at Priska C. Juschka Fine Art on North 9th Street, plays with the idea of artist-as-designer but never loses sight of the essential uselessness, and direct, provisional engagement with materials, that distinguish the art object from the prototype. Then again, the sprawling, fantastic underground cities she envisions are probably beyond the abilities of any commercial fabricator.
Her large, elaborate drawings (with their long, elaborate titles) suggest cross sections, or exploded views, of subterranean habitats. Done in ink, dye, pencil, marker, acrylic and gouache, they are built around the grid-based vocabulary of post-painterly abstraction and fused with a schemer's desire to retool the world. A horizontal band along the top establishes ground level, under which spindly squared-off stripes connect delicately colored boxes, linked ovals, target formations and circulating bands of alternating color that suggest various functions, which are identified in the titles -- hotel housing, central food storage, evacuation safety area.
Tegeder's circuits and systems recall Peter Halley's cell-and-conduit paintings, lightened up and gone haywire. A favorite is Bamoshan (China-Mali). . ., in which rectangles of filmy paint and areas of packed pattern create minutely detailed paintings within paintings, all joined by zippy yellow bars and twisting cable-like lines. In the current geopolitical climate, one imagines a post-apocalyptic live-work situation, with convenient freight elevators everywhere.
The nervy centerpiece of this show is Floating City, Tegeder's foray into three dimensions. On a knee-high mirror-topped platform, the artist has coordinated a collection of small-scale sculptures made of unidentifiable plastic, wood and metal parts, connected by strings of beads, snaking tubes and lines of mysterious powder. It has the accumulative feel of the drawings: an ad-hoc arrangement of subgroups suggesting districts, zones, and functions within a larger community. Drawings, all dated 2004, range in price from $3,200 to $7,500; the price of Floating City is available on request. The show is on view through Dec. 20, 2004.
Around the corner at Momenta Art are two shows, one moving, one still. In the smaller back gallery, Yale and Yaddo alumna Sarah Oppenheimer shows Field Study/Control, two DVDs playing on a pair of laptops that are propped open and hitched to floor-to-ceiling tension rods in the darkened space. They are slow motion, strap-hanger's-eye views of seated occupants of Japanese subway cars and office waiting rooms, flipping, twisting, fanning and otherwise wielding their daily newspaper like a saintly attribute, or a semaphore.
The artist has a background in semiotics, and a clear interest in the social significance of man-made spaces. With the laptop's keyboard tilted out of accustomed reach and the footage's bizarre camera angle, the viewer is thrown by the unexpected challenge of how to orient his or her own body to the work. Colors are muted, sound a hushed hum, walls of the room blank, furthering the sense of willed isolation and estrangement. Art doesn't get much more urban than this. The piece, in an edition of one, is $2,500.
Out front, R. H. Quaytman (daughter of the late, great formalist Harvey Quaytman) shows new photo-based silkscreen-on-wood images of a typewriter, a typesetting machine, manically Op stripe paintings, and the hulk of a loft building visible from the gallery's front steps. Every work is called Optima. The grouping is elliptical, melancholy, and memorable. Both shows were up through Dec. 6.
Over on Driggs Avenue, Jack the Pelican Presents recently hosted "This Delicate Monster," the first solo show at the gallery by Brooklyn-based artist Michelle Handelman. Known in some circles as the director of Blood Sisters, the 1995 documentary on San Francisco's leather lesbian community, Handelman achieved in this exhibition of photos and DVD loops a quirky, personal emotional resonance; the show approached an irrational, mythic complexity in its resistance of narrative resolution. The ensemble (all pieces dated 2004) takes as its starting point Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil, still crazy after all these years.
We're talking babes here -- provocatively clad, no less -- who hitchhike, spew liquids, change outfits, pair off and roll around in long grass, in the process embarking on some kind of fetishistic rite of passage. There's not much dialogue but plenty of sound: laughter, moaning, crickets, slurping, wheezing. Production values are high, which is no surprise, given the exhibition's lengthy list of collaborators, including costume designer Garo Sparo.
A series of confrontational performances was enacted at the gallery, but in the show itself only one piece had the compromised feel of a disused prop. Otherwise, the skewed narrative's claustrophobic, loopy self-referentiality optimized the gallery's awkward, funneling space. In Twins (Folly and Error), the sweetly cathartic video in the back room, a pair of giggly, hippy Brunhildes frolic across a hillside meadow, laying to rest any question that the underlying mode is comic. Prices range from $900 for smaller photos (in editions of five) and short videos to $2,500 for the title work, a ten-minute triptych that includes both flowers and evil.
Speaking of psychosexual odysseys, painter and dominatrix Kathe Burkhart holds court at Schroeder-Romero through Dec. 21 with a selection from her "Torture Paintings" series, spanning 1992 to 2001. The show, her second solo at this venue, included portraits of medieval torture devices -- rack, iron maiden, pillory -- rendered in acrylics on a variety of supports, in a blunt, faux-naif style. Each is titled after a former boyfriend, whose name appears on the relevant painting, on a small brass plaque.
Especially commanding is the seven-foot-high Fox 1975 (Man Trap) from 1994, in which a nasty-looking iron device is enlivened by a jaunty blue-and-pink striped background and stately gold frame. Dave 1984-1990 (Headcrusher) adds the suggestion of insult to injury, as this 1993 painting has in effect been tarred and feathered-in bright orange plumes.
As if she is merely playing the role of mistress-painter, the artist remains quite anonymous, revealing very little of herself. Impersonal though they are, these paintings would make a fine addition to any dungeon, even if the prices, which range upward to $15,000, are punishing by Williamsburg standards. A sampling of Burkhart's early work can be seen at Mitchell Algus Gallery in Chelsea through Jan. 8, 2005.
Evocative color is all well and good, but sometimes black-and-white suits the subject. Sideshow recently showed recent prints by Brooklyn veteran Richard Mock, pairing his withering visual tirades against corporate crime and the Bush crowd with juicy, bloody broadsides by Mexican populist printmakers, including Jose Posada, from Mexico's golden age of antiauthoritarian (and sensationalistic) agitprop.
Old-timers recall that Mock's wonderful graphics adorned the op-ed page of the Times from the late 1970s into the 80s, images that for visual wit and energy have seldom been equaled. The new work, a series of linocuts about two feet square, is no less bracing. In one print, the upper portion of our President's cranium has been removed, revealing the dorsal fin of a shark circling through the muck. In another, more general appraisal of the suspect motivations of those who would lead us, a nasty White House wolf lures the viewer/voter into his bed. The title is Trust Me. Prints are $1,800, signed and numbered in editions of 80.
The show is called "Matching Two Points in History." Posada's cheaply produced and widely distributed graphic attacks on the oppressive and corrupt regime of General Porfirio Diaz reached, and quite possibly helped to mobilize, illiterate peasants and workers in the pre-revolutionary period. Mock's work is great stuff, but, sadly, these two points don't really match, since for some strange reason our present-day electorate seems happy to keep our own villains in power.
Los Angeles-based painter Pamela Jorden recently debuted in New York at the recently inaugurated Klaus von Nichtssagend Gallery on Union Avenue. Her vibrant squiggles, bloops and curlicues of saturated color and their tints bunch up and settle into a bottom-heavy landscape space, dominated by scruffy, ominous black grounds. The eight new, untitled paintings that were on view are not large -- the biggest is three feet square -- but they teem with painterly energy, and with a concern for the emotional weight of line translated into physical, gravitational weight like you see in Guston, Bacon and Amy Sillman.
A CalArts grad, Jorden is one of an increasing number of young painters taking an interest in a gestural approach to abstraction that seemed all but forsaken not long ago. Hers are oil on canvas and on linen, priced in the $1,200 to $2,800 range. Run as a nonprofit project by a group of artists (none of them named von Nichtssagend) the modest storefront gallery plans renovations, and a full schedule for the foreseeable future.
Also, speaking of new galleries, Morsel is pioneering the district's eastern fringe with their tidy space on Olive Street. The gallery is into its second show, a group effort called "Into the Woods," which runs through Dec. 19. It's worth the extra effort to get there -- grab a cup of the neighborhood's best coffee at Oslo on Roebling Street, then walk a dozen blocks east on lively Metropolitan Avenue.
Dawn Clements shows terrific new drawings at Pierogi and in a concurrent show at Feigen Contemporary in Chelsea, both continuing into late December. . . . Brooklyn was well represented at the New Art Dealers Alliance Art Fair in Miami, Dec. 2-5, with Priscka C. Juschka, Momenta Art, Plus Ultra, Roebling Hall and Schroeder-Romero all setting up shop there. Concurrently, 31 Grand, Black+White and Jack the Pelican were at Scope Miami, and Pierogi took on the big show, Art Basel Miami Beach.
STEPHEN MAINE is an artist and writer who lives in Brooklyn.