Amidst the current vogue for art that is overwrought and belabored, how sweet it is to be reminded that an installation need not be elaborate to take command of the exhibition space. Recent SVA grad Thomas Lendvai does just that with A Series of "Nows" at Plus Ultra on South 1st Street in Williamsburg, on view through Feb. 13, 2005. In recent months the gallery has presented several dramatic installations of traditionally object-based art forms, like Kate Gilmore's memorable video/sculpture hybrid, Heartbreaker, and Getting to Know the Neighbors, an accordion-fold book of photos by Jennifer Dalton, which snaked through the space on a custom-made pedestal.
But Lendvai's gesture is the grandest of all, and the most visually economical. He installed 2 x 8 planks at 16-inch intervals across the space, stretching from wall to wall and forming a kind of imaginary false ceiling. The plane implied by the closely placed struts slices through the space at an eccentric angle, dividing the room's volume roughly in half. The row of beams starts high up above the entrance, at the southeast corner, and is at its lowest point at the corner opposite. The joining of strut to existing white wall is impeccably crafted (that is to say, invisible), as it needs to be to sustain the illusion that the gallery is being infiltrated by a foreign structure.
As Plus Ultra co-director Ed Winkleman points out, the piece divides his space into a dark, cramped world underneath, and a light, happy world above. (At the opening, it effectively segregated the very tall and the very short.) My wife thought of Alice Aycock and Mary Miss; for me, the piece evoked the space-shifting dynamics of Richard Serra, or Gordon Matta-Clark if he had added material instead of removing it. In any case, it is not a smugly self-obsessed object, but one for which context is content. People will be talking about this show for months, so try to catch it before it closes.
"Parrot, Dirt, Trivet" is the beguiling title of an exhibition of new works cooked up by Mark Power, on view through Feb. 6 at Holland Tunnel, a quirky little venue in a retrofitted tool shed down on South 3rd Street. Not so long ago, Power showed gauzy white wall sculptures, like little frozen clouds, at Realform Project Space on Bedford Avenue. Since then, he has amped up his palette and diversified his materials, but the sense his earlier work conveyed of emotional fragility and transience -- the forlorn -- is intact.
But they're feisty, too. Works such as Go Lemon and Doggy consist of a small, offhand-looking drawing taped to the wall above a perpendicular, platform-like second sheet, upon which perches a vaguely biological form suggesting spores or yeast. Below dangles an agglomeration of crumpled spheres in glossy crayola colors -- excess in small doses. The show's concatenational title nails the polymorphous nature of the work, as if disparate notions of tactility, palette and facture have been persuaded to belong to the same piece for a few minutes.
The gallery, founded in 1997 on a whim and still run by Pauline Leithen, is not among the neighborhood's top tier, but Power is for real, and everything in the show is priced for the entry-level collector.
A new arrival in Williamsburg, the Sarah Bowen Gallery has taken the North 6th Street space that was formerly home to Jessica Murray Projects. The current exhibition, the gallery's second, is a generous selection of recent oil and acrylic paintings on canvas by veteran New Yorker Katherine Bradford, called "Ether Nights."
Painted fields or pools of dark blues, shot through with hot or pasty hues, set the chromatic tone for the show. In the largish Projectors, one green and four rosy reddish slide projectors are depicted in a stack along the right edge of the canvas, beaming pale, hazy spots of glowing light into an inky blue void. The surface is beautiful, in an offhand way -- attended to, but not finicky.
This painting, and most others in the show, retain elements of the faux-naf figuration Bradford is known for. But Campfire is largely abstract, its inexplicable hot balloons of reds and greens adrift in a brushy, smoky sky pleasantly at odds with the minute narrative detail of campsite and tree line. In another stylistic hybrid, Corridor Above Wave, a bouncing band of light enclosing humanoid silhouettes floats above a roaring pile-up of squiggly lines. The prices for these larger canvasses break into five digits, but small gems, like the gorgeous, 16 x 12-inch Diver, can be had for around $1,000. The show closes Feb. 13.
At Pierogi on North 9th St., Tony Fitzpatrick strikes just the right untutored-looking note in his small, antic, texty collage-drawings that ape the fabled scruffiness of his hometown, Chicago. In each, a central, iconic motif of the artist's devising -- based, one gathers, on Windy City legend -- is surrounded by ancillary elements like saintly attributes. The show is called "The Wonder: Portrait of a Remembered City."
Luminaries like Autumn Moth, Pimp Dog, Lucky Girl and Night Train are identified in childlike cursive, and explicated and augmented by clipped illustrations, baseball tickets, lettered notations and a great many matchbook covers from places with evocative names unknown to outsiders, like Rainbo Bowling Lanes and Ireland's Oyster House. The pictorial space is flat, the mood is nostalgic, and the prices reflect the fervor of the artist's following: in the $10,000 to $14,000 range, the show is about sold out.
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Innovators whose radical practice has proven prescient, William Eggleston and Stephen Shore might be to photography in our time as Picasso and Braque were to painting in theirs. Eggleston's white trash edge, and Shore's brazenly casual and spacey one, are still breathtaking. The "poetic snapshot" is now widely emulated, its diverse practitioners struggling at times to deal with its staggering implications.
One such is William Lamson, whose solo debut at Pierogi (paired with the Fitzpatrick show) reveals a young photographerwho brings a tweaked, twilight-zone otherworldliness into the conversation. A favorite picture is Ball, a shot of a cozy, shadowy living room that has been invaded by a large rubber ball, glowing brightly in a blaze of sunlight. It has the presence of a sentient being. And in Irving Pointing to God, an old codger in work clothes looks imploringly at the camera while stretching a pointed finger at the sky, as if to explain why the dirt in his field has turned to crimson.
Buyers get a choice of formats. The 24 x 36-inch digital C-prints on view are $1,300 in editions of eight; 33.5 x 50-inch prints, in editions of three, are $3,000. The Fitzpatrick and Lamson shows run through Feb. 7.
Native Texan, UT Austin grad and Greenpoint resident Barry Stone also works with the snapshot esthetic, as seen in "Your Name and Mine," his solo show of seven large color C-prints on view through Feb. 6 at Klaus Von Nichtssagend on Union Avenue. In Ann at the Window, Seattle, Washington, 2004, a still-young woman seen in profile, hand on hip, looks expectantly out of a large window. She is framed against the gauzy curtains she delicately parts. The specificity of her gesture is just sufficient to imply a narrative.
Other storylines are left dangling. In Dad in the Corn, Blaine, Washington, 2004, a white-haired fellow in a blue shirt busies himself with something or other amid leafy green corn stalks looming like jungle growth. The tiny, isolated subject of Boy Snorkeling, Seaside, Florida, 2002 is comically close to shore, as if having been cautioned about the undertow. But the formally streamlined Hula Hoops, Scarsdale, New York, 2004 boils down to two pink ellipses in the sodden turf. C-prints, they are $1,500 each.
For those of us who can't get enough of this kind of thing, there's more to be had in "Cracker: Re-thinking the American South," assembled by independent curator Kathleen Brady and split between NurtureArt on Keap Street and Naked Duck on Jackson. Defining the sensibility and leitmotifs of the Rebel diaspora in the Northeast is Brady's project. The curatorial conceit is more interesting than much of the work included, but Richard McCabe's small, intense color photos are memorable: Costumes and Palm Tree are two ideas of commercial signage, each in its own way putting a perky face toward the consuming public.
As if bucking this trend, Cary Clifford makes soft-focus, black-and-white photos that are unabashedly Romantic; for all we know they signal a Pictorialist revival. Self-portrait before Dying, a gelatin print from 2001, is a strange, very individual piece of work. The show is up through Feb. 13, and the work is priced to find new collectors.
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The decided lack of glitz characterizing our borough's latest offerings is borne out in "Decipher: Hand-Painted Digital," a group show assembled by Yasufumi Nakamori for the venerable nonprofit Rotunda Gallery in Brooklyn Heights. A former curatorial assistant at the Whitney Museum, Nakamori contrasts his show to that institution's "Bitstreams" exhibition of 2001, emphasizing his concern with the plasticity of traditional materials and the handmade object. The work in the show is informed not so much by the visual culture of digital technology as by the practical, functional approaches toward picture-making that technology makes available.
Bruce Pearson is represented by The Ridiculous Bodies of the Spirits, a work typical of his recent output. The title, in elongated letters, is meshed with a pattern of rhythmic shapes denoting waves; carved with a hot wire from a six-by-seven-foot slab of Styrofoam, the whole surface then articulated in mid-gray and milky pinkish acrylic paint. The evolving relation of word to image is at issue here, as well as ideas of legibility and visual overload.
Otherartists, like Claire Corey and Millree Hughes, make abstract images that reflect the essentially abstract nature of digital technology. Corey's paintings, which are marked by sweeping, vertiginous spaces, panting colors and coiling gestures, are developed digitally and printed out on canvas; in the two works here, the weave of the fabric is conspicuous in its irrelevance.
The "digital lenticulars" of Millree Hughes appeal even to the gimmick-averse, so unprepossessing are they in scale and painterly in approach. Snappy, juicy colors layered in fake space change constantly according to the angle of view, evoking a walk through a Technicolor wood. Lenticulars are to painting as View-Masters were, a few decades ago, to photography: a cool-looking variant. Three are on view; one is dark, one has different reds, and one seems more pixilated than the others. An animated version on DVD, playing on a screen a little larger than the panels, lacks the resolution that lends the panels their absorbing zap.
The accompanying text makes clear Hughes's distrust of technology; like the other artists in the show, Hughes grasps but does not wholly embrace it, preferring to hold it at arm's length. Consistent with the gallery's curatorial policy, the ten artists represented in Decipher live and/or work in Brooklyn. Among the others included in this high-caliber roundup are Marsha Cottrell, David Brody, Carl Fudge and James Esber.
Also noted: Mike Kelley meets the Philadelphia Wireman in the small-scale, outsiderish soft sculpture by Ellen Takata in "Winter Indoors," a two-person show at Southfirst on view through Feb. 13. The lumpen little guys, most just a few inches tall and some, but not all, bearing recognizable anatomical features, are felicitously paired with Rebecca Bird's delicate drawings in watercolor and ink. . . . Simone Leigh's funky, chilly, ceramic-centric critique of formalist esthetics at Momenta. . . . Berlin-based Stefan Sehler shows new paintings on Plexiglas at Parker's Box, through Feb. 13.
Holding down the corner of Marcy and Hope Streets for seven years now, Cristobal Dam and Leah Stuhltrager recently renovated their compact space and are inaugurating the new and improved Dam, Stuhltrager with a show of recent paintings by former Parsons instructor James Austin Murray, and print-like drawings by Eric Hollender, through Feb. 20. . . . While on the Southside, try the tapas at Allioli, on Grand Street near Havermeyer. . . . Out on Olive Street in East Williamsburg, Morsel shakes things up with "Bam! Boom! Bang!!!," a rowdy six-artist show on view through February 20, featuring paintings by Giovanni Garcia-Fenech and sculpture by Michael Krumenacker.
STEPHEN MAINE is an artist and writer who lives in Brooklyn.