Gallery-goers have the next two weekends to get to Boreas gallery on Roebling Street to see the wonderful, odd, inexplicably riveting "Project Jedi" by Welsh artist Peter Finnemore. An expanded version of the artist's exhibition at last summer's Venice Biennale, it is among the best shows I've seen in Williamsburg all year, well worth the time it requires to absorb its 30 or so brief, leisurely paced videos.
Each is shot in a single take with a stationary camera. Finnemore himself appears in almost all of them, wearing an implacable expression along with a comically ineffectual camouflage suit and tinted spectacles. Moving about his overgrown, rather down-at-the-heels garden and orchard, he and his similarly dressed cohorts engage in mock-heroic maneuvers often bordering on vandalism. In Glass House, two camera-shy little girls overcome their self-consciousness long enough to demolish a small glass greenhouse with stones pulled from their pockets.
Narrative is negligible in some of these pieces. In the three-minute-long Forest Fire, a gorgeous blaze consumes a rickety tool shed, which eventually collapses. In White Noise, the artist stands atop a ladder propped against an uprooted tree and wields a heavy mirror that reflects flashes of sunlight directly at the camera, for a minute-and-a-half.
Conflating secret U.S. military invisibility training with ancient Celtic myths of the "green man," a fickle spirit of the fecund earth, Finnemore pulls his symbols from a wide cultural spectrum, including cheap pyrotechnics, hostile wind-up toys, martial arts films and 1960s anti-war anthems. Eve of Destruction casts the artist as a demented Mick Jagger/Pete Townshend hybrid, clowning like a nine-year-old to the titular Barry McGuire song, with a sunflower for a microphone.
The cumulative effect of these glimpses into country life is a portrait of a community of eccentrics, overcoming rural isolation -- or reveling in the opportunities it provides for freer, more unhinged expression -- with unfathomable communal rituals. In Potato Eaters, a merry band in matching combat gear and sunglasses sings along to "Rawhide" while waiting for their spuds to cool.
Mildly shocking (I won't reveal how) are ultra-brief gems like War Games and Law of the Jungle. A complex pricing schedule, reflecting the variety in length and ambitiousness of the pieces, and the size of the edition, is available at the gallery. Museums take note: The entire set can be had for $14,000.
Art Moving Projects on North 12 Street presents "A Powerful Hankering," the second solo show by Mass Arts-trained Jim Nolan. Smallish floor sculptures like Flying My Flag and X-Factor combine clean slabs of laminated wood and veneers with quotidian found objects like old clothes, plastic flowers and beer bottles -- works that are eccentric and formalistic, both. Made in Japan calls attention to the resemblance of the cheap audio speakers it includes to the forms found in Minimalist sculpture, while Clusterfuck (If 6 Were 9) refers to Barry Le Va, Mel Bochner and post-Minimalist "scatter art" strategies.
Brown Flag is the most complex of the photo-based wall works in the show, which enlist the inexorable sweep of perspective seen in photos of receding floorboards. Prices range from a few hundred dollars for the smaller wall pieces to $6,000 for My Morning Flag, an Arte Povera-inspired pastiche of bed sheets and tube socks, from the artist's "Three Sheets" series. Paired with an interactive, text-centric sound-and-video piece by Marcin Ramocki titled Flux 2, the show is up through Feb. 26, 2006.
Painter, printmaker and art writer Stephen Westfall has for some years forged a funky alloy of Minimalism and Pop, often to humorous effect. Bruno Marina Gallery on Atlantic Avenue presents "New Works on Paper" by the artist, through mid-February. Many are sceenprints, like Diamond Life, which makes witty use of the paper's deckled edge to further the suggestion of a kilim or a Navajo rug, with its earthy red ground and multicolored, horizontally stretched diamond shapes -- which might also be stacked Donald Judd-like slabs, seen in axonometric view.
The show includes a number of monoprints and a couple of watercolors, but the standout is a new woodcut called Jig, which packs Stuart Davis-like colors and restless, jiggling energy into its ten-by-ten inches. Typical of Westfall's pictorial concerns, its suggestion of the urban landscape arises from carefully calibrated formal eccentricities: The grid strains against its confines, refusing to settle into place. Prices for the works on paper range upward to $1500; there's a nice little oil on hand as well, courtesy of Lennon, Weinberg, the artist's gallery. After this show, Bruno Marina owner Rico Espinet plans a group outing titled "Moving Ahead," on the theme of "the poetics of seeing and inner life." I tell you, "intuitive" is back.
Highlights include Phalanx Crescendo by Elaine Angelopoulos, in which numerous lengths of knotted butcher's twine form a tenuous column that leans away from the gallery entrance, and Richard Garrison's quirky but vaguely functional-looking shapes cut out of stacks of asphalt paper. The piece's title, Parking Lot Perimeters, divulges the source of the imagery.
At $5,000, it is the priciest work in the exhibition, which continues through Jan. 15, 2006. The checklist also includes rock-solid work by painters Stephen Nguyen, David Eddleston and Eugenie Tung, and sculptors Karen Margolis and Tom Kotik.
Another group show, "Selected Drawings" at Klaus von Nichtssagend on Union Avenue, includes two works based on the eccentric but unmistakable shape of a laminated-plywood, grade school desktop by David Scanavino. (The RISD- and Yale-trained artist also co-curated "Neo-Con," seen last April at Gavin Brown's Enterprise.)
The drawings made me think of Myron Stout, but gallery information has it that the artist has Robert Moskowitz in mind. In any case, Desk with Scribbles and, especially, Fluorescent Light Desk are beautiful. Figure-ground relationships and ultra-subtle coloration are among the chief attractions of these works, which involve matte acrylic, colored pencils, graphite and beeswax.
Hanging in the gallery's back office is what amounts to a second show of drawings by gallery regulars, including a stylishly grotesque, bulging greenish mass of pretty entrails by KVN co-founder Matthew Chase, and a carbon-paper transfer drawing on orange paper of a surfer catching a wave, by Pali Kashi. (The artist's very strong solo outing was seen here last April.) "Selected Drawings" remains on view though Jan. 15, 2006; the drawings in the office are subject to rotation. Throughout the gallery, prices are pegged for the beginning collector.
Most artists juggle their studio time and their day job. That Brooklynite Rick Briggs has worked more than a few shifts as a house painter can be guessed from the work in "Painter Man," his first solo show, seen last November at Sarah Bowen Gallery on North Sixth Street. The show's title presumably refers to both Briggs himself and to the preternaturally enthusiastic and self-confident fellow who wields a loaded paint roller in several of the canvases.
Briggs makes his fine art paintings -- sophisticated figurative renderings that suggest John Wesley without his obsession with pink and light blue -- on stretched drop cloths with alkyd house paint, plaster, and other materials of the trade. His alter ego appears on a variety of job sites, perhaps most memorably in Red Room, Red Room. Possibly oblivious to the Hokusai-like wave of red coursing down the wall behind him, he is nevertheless undeterred by the huge silver casket in the foreground, which, well, he's just going to have to work around!
The whole business rises above the level of self-indulgent joke by virtue of its dark, desperate humor and pervasive Catholic imagery, as in The Profession of Faith, in which Painter Man is caught in a crucifixion pose while taping a drywall joint. Offering is a small painting of a silver roller pan clamped to the top rung of a folding ladder, loaded with blood red paint.
In fact, red dominated the show, as in Red Studio, a takeoff on the Matisse painting wherein Briggs' own studio is awash in crimson semi-gloss. And the macho predilection for house-painters' brushes over red sable and squirrel, famously employed by Frank Stella in his "Black Paintings," is skewered in One Liner. Here, Painter Man is seen painting an entire apartment with a single, redoubling, paintbrush-wide black stripe, on red walls, of course. Prices for these paintings range from $1,100 to $10,000.
Also back in November, Sharon Lawless showed a number of her "Poured Paintings and Drawings" at Holiday on Powers Street. A veteran of the early-1980s heyday of the East Village art scene and still based in lower Manhattan, Lawless employs a method popular these days, especially, it would seem, among women artists: L.A-based Jane Callister, as well as Brooklynites Carolanna Parlato and Susan Rabinowitz also make fine use of it.
Lawless distinguishes herself among this company by her use of small formats -- many of the best works here are on paper, measuring 8 by 8 inches -- and a palette of enamels in distinctly cosmetics-like hues. Resolutely abstract, they sidestep figurative association. In fact, gallerist Patty Martori tells us that, as part of her working method, Lawless considers failed "the ones that look like something. You know, like a Popsicle."
In this serene space, these gently oozing, sensuous pools of color struck a balance between control and indeterminacy. In larger works on stretched linen and on panels, the movement of pigment is interrupted, for example by stencils. It will be interesting to see if Lawless can put a truly personal stamp on this idea about application, which has so many adherents.
On view through Jan. 15, 2006, at Holland Tunnel is "50+," a group show of works by artists in their second 50 years, organized by Robert C. Morgan. . . . And last but not least, for a fortifying lunch of Indian specialties, you can't go wrong at Taj Mahal, located on North Fifth Street just a few steps off Bedford Avenue.
STEPHEN MAINE is an artist and writer who lives in Brooklyn.