Sculptor DeWitt Godfrey makes a spectacular return to Black + White Gallery on Driggs Avenue in Williamsburg with Picker Sculpture, installed in two new versions -- indoor and outdoor. Named for the sculpture's original site at the Picker Gallery at Colgate University, where the artist teaches, these commanding, modular works are constructed of bands of steel rolled into tubes of widely varying size (from two to five feet in diameter) and varying degrees of flexibility. The tubes are stacked like gigantic logs within the confines of the enclosing architecture, in a process that, the artist tells us, retains an element of the improvisational.
The things have enormous presence, and the playful, buoyant forms hint at a broad vernacular vocabulary that encompasses cartoons, barricades, grillwork, even aircraft fuselages. The steel Godfrey uses is of just such a gauge that the component parts shift and distort somewhat as they settle under their own weight. (In fact, his Driggs Sculpture, installed in the gallery's outdoor space in the winter of 2002, was nearly flattened by heavy snow.) This mutability contributes to the viewer's sense of the aliveness of the pieces, as if they are organisms responding to natural forces rather than merely illustrations of a response.
The price list for the Picker Sculpture variations indicates "inquire at the desk," and it figures -- parts and labor would certainly depend on the site involved. Also on view are a couple of nifty small-scale studies, made of sections of tin cans and cardboard tubes bolted together, which share the goofy, unlikely elegance of the big work and are bargain-priced at $1,500 and $800. The show is up through Oct. 18, 2004, and is required viewing for all Williamsburg-watchers.
Indeterminacy, chance, and the careful courting of the destructive effects of natural forces also figure in the panel paintings of Jaq Chartier, a mid-career artist now based in Seattle, whose second solo show at Schroeder Romero, called "Sun Tests," continues through Oct. 11. The artist, a paint tester for Golden Artist Colors, fruitfully brings her day job home with her. Hazy circles of saturated hues, arranged in loose grids or in roughly parallel streaks across fields of milky white, look at first like sparse abstractions by some kind of Arte Povera-influenced Zen master, but as the show's title suggests, an empirical method is in full effect.
For some time, Chartier has been exploring in her work the chromatic changes accompanying chemical reactions between various combinations of paints, dyes, stains, inks and other substances. In the new work, she partially masks her color samples and then subjects the paintings to prolonged exposure to direct sunlight. (The specifics of each experiment are often noted on the edge or face of the panel.) As some pigments are more fugitive than others, some hues look bleached, others don't really, and a few shift quite dramatically across the spectrum. Gimmick? Maybe -- but every artist needs a hook, and in any case the resulting paintings are oddly alluring. Prices are generally in the $2,500-$8,000 range.
In the gallery's project room, Janice Caswell quantifies experience differently, mapping, quite prettily, her real and/or imaged dealings with the urban interface in a show called "Small Towns." The artist works directly on the wall with pins, wire, foam core and enamel. Prices range from $1,350 for Lakewood, New Jersey to $3,500 for Mavisu, Turkey. She's also got work in "Staccato," a group show at Jeffrey Coploff in Chelsea.
A concern with process also characterizes the work of Beth Brideau, a young New Yorker whose solo debut, called "Everything Beautiful Is Far Away," is on view through Oct. 24 at Southfirst on North Sixth Street. (It is the first in a series of six solo debuts the gallery plans to present, from now into the spring of 2005.) The artist works in watercolor, basing her often large pieces on expansive stretches of landscape as seen from an aerial perspective.
Each is rendered, in tints of a single color, as a broken pattern of light and dark. The chromatic restraint allows the complexity of drawing to take center stage; depending on the contours and intervals, an understated but unmistakable suggestion emerges of arid plain, rocky foothill or fertile farmland. Brideau moves easily from large to small scale, and even relatively tiny works like Appalachian Mountains #1 ($310), at 10 x 13 in., economically describes vast spaces -- accentuated, perhaps, by the sense of a glimpse through an airplane window. The largest painting, the ten-foot-tall 36,000' #7 ($4,200), is on a panel prepared with a bright white, absorbent ground, which retains the watercolor's alluring sparkle.
Down on South First Street, Plus Ultra is showing seven large, very likable color photographs by recent Pratt MFA Nicholas Gaffney. In the foreground of otherwise unremarkable shots of woodland landscapes, Gaffney has arranged samples of the kind of snacks that grown-ups are supposed to eschew. Twinkies scamper through tall grass like bunnies, chocolate kisses swarm like termites, pretzel logs unfurl in a golden-brown ribbon like a forbidden path to junk food heaven.
Something of the tactic of the "prop comic" is at work here: one photo recontextualizes "fruit-by-the-foot," which would be a great punch line no matter what the set-up. Generally the tone is that of gentle mocking, and the artist seems satisfied to elicit a rueful chuckle -- although a brick of Spam gasping for breath in the foreground of an otherwise nearly featureless expanse of lake gets to something darker. The show is called "Treasure Hunt," and extends through Oct. 11. The prints, in editions of four, are $1,200 each.
More than 300 artists busied themselves over the summer with fashioning their own individual take on the high-performance racing vehicle, predicated upon the six-inch block of wood fitted with plastic wheels that Pierogi has been selling for the purpose for $4.00. The result of all that activity is the glorious "Brooklyn Gravity Racers," now on view at the venerable institution on North Ninth Street through Oct. 10.
The show, a.k.a. "Pierogi a Go-Go," reprises a similarly-conceived 1995 effort, and like that show will culminate in real-time races, prizes, beer-guzzling and general hilarity, this time in celebration of Pierogi's tenth anniversary. It'll happen just up the street at Supreme Trading, next door to Priska C. Juschka Fine Art, on the evenings of Oct. 6, 7 and 8. Coming on the heels of "Vacation Nation," the gallery's beautifully orchestrated if doctrinaire summer group show of gallery regulars, "Brooklyn Gravity Racers" is a blast, and it's a safe bet that there will never be anything like it in stuffy old Chelsea.
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Also of note: Rising rents are prompting many top Williamsburg galleries to move out of the area. After five-plus years here, Sixtyseven (formerly *sixtyseven) decamps to Chelsea, taking its lively and unpretentious taste to West 27th Street. The opening act is the solo debut of young Brooklynite Echo Eggebrecht.
Jessica Murray Projects also finds a new home in Manhattan, inaugurating the new 11th Avenue space with a show by Brady Dollarhide in October. Dollarhide's was the painting hanging next to the Diebenkorn in the Brooklyn Museum's "Open House" show.
Meanwhile, the Billyburg beat goes on: Bedford Avenue stalwart Sideshow has dug in, doubled in size, and opened the season with a three-person show called "From Brooklyn With Love," on view through Oct. 18 and featuring the work of avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas.
Longtime Soho mischief-makers Liz-N-Val admirably acquit themselves among the hipsters with their low-tech, winsome piece, titled Downpour, installed at Realform Project Space and on view through Oct. 3.
The very young and serious RKL Gallery, located on Leonard Street on the eastern fringe of the district, betrays an interest in mid-career painters by showing work from the last few years by Riley Brewster.
Rotunda Gallery director and curator Meridith McNeal struts her stuff at Figureworks on North Sixth Street, in a solo show called "You Must Remember This," through Oct. 3. The work refers to costume history, sheet music, maps and hairdos, and looks especially at home in the gallery's brownstone setting.
A high point of the summer, sadly no longer on view, was the site-specific Wishing Well by Amy Gartrell, installed in the Commons, the verdant core of downtown's MetroTech Center, as part of the Public Art Fund-sponsored "American Idyll" exhibition. Five emerging artists were invited to respond to this pleasantly cloistered public space, and Gartrell's contribution was in synch with the site; at the center of the borough's financial district, her towering caricature of a wishing well hinted at issues of access, opportunity and perseverance. PAF's next show at MetroTech, "Semiprecious," opened Sept. 29.
STEPHEN MAINE is an artist and writer who lives in Brooklyn.