The young Brooklyn artist David Opdyke makes technically dazzling sculptures that are political without being pedagogical. Centerpiece of his second solo show in New York, "Loose Ends" at Roebling Hall, Nov. 21-Dec. 22, 2003, is the USS Mall (2003), a nearly five-foot-long model of painted plastic and foam that looks like a chunk of suburban America that has been ripped out of the earth in the shape of an aircraft carrier. The deck of the carrier is the mall parking lot, lined with parked cars rather than aircraft, and in the place of the carrier superstructure are warehouse-style stores. The equation of American consumerism with military might isn't exactly a new idea, though Opdyke's version is a knockout.
Similarly, his six-foot-wide Oil Empire traces an elaborate map of the continental United States in tiny, stark white oil pipelines so densely woven as to articulate the suspicion that the interests of the energy companies quite literally shape daily life in this country. The exhibition's theatrical lighting is especially effective in Projecting Power (whose materials are listed as "plastic, foam and light"), a seemingly amorphous hybrid of asteroid and communications satellite that casts a chilling American-eagle shadow on the gallery floor. Prices for the sculptures range from $8,000 to $18,000, and a series of drawings based on plans of major U.S. cities is priced at $1,200 each.
Abstract painting of the non-geometric sort often lends itself to a reading as landscape, a phenomenon that British-born, Los Angeles-based artist Jane Callister appears determined to exploit. In "Expanded Sticker Project," her second solo show at Southfirst, Nov. 14-Dec. 21, 2003, Callister (who is included in the very helpful Vitamin P survey of new art, published last year by Phaidon) pours, puddles and otherwise manipulates her acrylics across sheets of self-adhesive vinyl, trimming the sheets to fit her canvas or combining them with sculptural elements -- plastic models, prefab decorative shelves -- on the gallery wall. The dense, craggy forms recall Chinese landscape painting in their ambiguity of scale and bending of space.
Especially convincing pieces are Callister's 16 x 20 in. untitled panel paintings ($2,000) and the slightly larger works on paper ($1,400), in which the artist is in full command of her vocabulary. She augments her applied stickers and such with loosely associative landscape elements, outlined in marker, which suggest one pictorial resolution while implying the possibility of others.
Notwithstanding the toy dinosaurs and cheap decorative flourishes that diminish its seriousness of purpose, Callister's untitled wall piece is the most ambitious in the show, and tantalizes with the suggestion of the mutability of its fabrication. With luck, Callister isn't done with this sticker idea.
To account for the appeal of Jacques Flechemuller's darkly comic vision would be like trying to explain how a joke works. His current show, "Sophie at Night," is on view at Schroeder Romero, Nov. 28-Dec. 22, 2003. For decades, artists have been pushing the envelope of unorthodox materials, but "alphabet pasta on starling" establishes a new standard.
Born in Monaco and now, at mid-career, based in Brooklyn, Flechemuller's main focus is painting. His imagery is characterized by an obvious fondness for the absurdity lurking just beneath the surface of advertising imagery and popular culture, filtered through a skeptical, post-pop sensibility. Tango (2003), a medium-sized (30 x 34 in.) oil on canvas, gives us a wall-eyed pair of Chihuahuas in a bathetic embrace, cheesy and irresistible. Breakfast (2002), a larger (96 x 96 in.) work painted on masonite, depicts a good-natured gathering of well-groomed male pajama models, while in Birthday Cake (2002), frenzied quintuplet toddlers in matching spectacles work up a sugar high. Prices are generally in the $4,000-$8,000 range.
Somehow, the paintings avoid condescension toward their subject (John Currin, take note). Visitors should not overlook the wall of amusing drawings ($600 each), which also refer to mass visual culture and often feature an interior framing device suggesting a TV or movie screen. (The show is paired with the lovely surrealistic photograms by gallery newcomer Wendy Small.)
Earlier this month, as the show was in its second week, New York was hit with an impressive snowstorm, though gallery owners Lisa Schroeder and Sara Jo Romero were safely ensconced in Miami Beach, soaking up sunshine (and collectors' checks) at the NADA Fair. The talismanic value of the show's funniest painting was thus fulfilled -- superimposed over a wanly smiling little boy in a striped polo shirt are the words, "Thank you God for protecting my art dealer."
The sun sets slowly over Brooklyn's DUMBO neighborhood. This once-promising art district succumbs to vigorous development and its concomitant desiccative effect. Artists and gallerists Julian Jackson and Rene Lynch have mounted their last show at Metaphor Contemporary Art's current space on Washington Street before they relocate to Atlantic Avenue next March.
The painter Mie Yim shows us what the fuzzy, cherubic animal-people of children's illustration might be up to after the storybooks are closed and the kiddies sent off to Slumberland -- and it's not pretty. Turns out their world is as much awash in sexual anxiety and power games as ours. In the large pastel drawing Slumber Party, a "top" in powder green evaluates the exposed pink bottom of his anxious playmate. And in Odd Balls, a blank-eyed lamblike creature may or may not be presenting herself sexually to the viewer.
The queasy recombination of stuffed toys in compromising positions that Mike Kelley was showing some years ago come to mind, but Yim (whose work was seen in the Drawing Center's recent "Internal Excess" show) has mastered a soft-focus, candy-colored pastel technique that is calibrated to clash with her subject. A suite of very small drawings at the rear of the gallery leaves even less to the imagination. Prices range from $800 to $3,000.
In contrast to Yim's project, which seems fully realized to the point of completion, gallerymate Yoko Inoue's work is more open-ended, and seems poised to go in many directions simultaneously. Her signature object is a glazed ceramic hybrid of coke bottle, kewpie doll and Buddha statuette, hinting at spiritual tourism. A table like a reliquary is loaded with variations on this totem, as well as hanks of fake hair, waxy broken combs and puffy flowers like mums or poppies, all reflected in a vanity mirror. A dresser drawer is opened to reveal rows of ceramic handguns and more Buddhas -- big issues confronting us when all we were reaching for was a clean pair of socks.
Prices for the Coke-Kewpie series, which range in size from nine to 15 inches, is $180 to $950. The show is on view through Dec. 19. Inuoe's work, as well as David Opdyke's, will be seen in the Brooklyn Museum's "Open House: Working in Brooklyn," which will run for four months beginning mid-April 2004.
Also of note (all on view through Dec. 22 unless otherwise indicated) are the acid-reflux landscape paintings on paper by Mala Iqbal at Bellwether. Relying for much of their punch on an illusionistic leap in space created by placing sharp-focus foreground elements against a blurry backdrop, they flaunt the artifice of the device even as they compel admiration of its undeniable effect. Works on paper are $750 to $950 and paintings on panel are $2,000 to $6,000.
At Parker's Box, Patrick Martinez has fashioned bubbling holes in the floor so startling and odd they should have the space entirely to themselves. . . . Jason Clay Lewis's overwrought installation at 31 Grand is redeemed by one very convincing object in the shape of a unphotographably dense, black-fur-covered human skull ($2,500). A study in economy of means, it is darker, weirder, and more disturbing than the combined effect of the rest of this elaborate show, and well worth seeing.
Further afield, in the about-to-happen Smithlantic district (you heard it here first), artist-gallerist and SVA alum Ron Meisner shows his own sleekly beautiful, diaristic mixed-media collage paintings on reclaimed coffee filters ($300 each) at 354 Exhibitions on Degraw Street, on view through Jan. 11, 2004.
STEPHEN MAINE is an artist and writer who lives in Brooklyn.