Imagine my surprise when I picked up the Weekend Arts II section of the NY Times for January 23 and saw on its front page the huge photograph of a lofty gallery with many, many mostly small- to medium-sized pictures decorating its walls from floor to ceiling (the top ones “skied," in the nomenclature of the Royal Academy of London). At last, I thought, the Times has decided to give the annual monster group show of contemporary art at Williamsburg’s Sideshow the publicity it so richly deserves.
Then I realized that the lofty gallery depicted was two or three times the size of Sideshow, and the paintings on the walls had much more space between them. Reading the accompanying text (by Holland Cotter), I learned that this exhibition—though also in Brooklyn—is in Dumbo at Smack Mellon, titled“Respond,” and a group exhibition of art that protests the status of the African-American in U.S. society, and racism in general (through February 22).
Although it grew out of the reactions to the deaths in 2014 of Michael Brown in Ferguson MO and Eric Garner in New York, this eminently worthwhile exhibition incorporates earlier work as well as work specifically inspired by the events of 2014. I haven’t seen it yet, so I can’t comment on individual works within it. All I wanted to say here is that I suspect the proprietors of Smack Mellon must have been familiar with one or more of Sideshow’s annual shows, since their hanging is so similar.
SEIZING THE MOMENT IN WILLIAMSBURG:
SIDESHOW NATION III—CIRCLE THE WAGONS!!!
I have been to Sideshow, and seen this year’s edition of the monster show, which is entitled “Sideshow Nation III: Circle the Wagons!!!”(through March 15). The title resembles that of last year, which referred to the Alamo. Again, it arises out of the fact that Richard Timperio, proprietor of Sideshow, feels himself surrounded by predatory capitalists---ruining Williamsburg for artistic purposes by tearing down cheap old properties, building expensive new ones, and thereby sending property taxes sky-high.
When I say that I have seen “Sideshow Nation III,” I mean that I’ve seen it to the extent possible in a couple of hours. There is, after all, a 21-page checklist, with 630 artists listed in it, and there are limits to how many I can respond to. I’m sorry about that, but in two hours, I was able to relate only to work by 64 artists before my eyes started to glaze over.
This is roughly one every two minutes, and one out of every ten on display. I apologize in advance to all the talented folk whose efforts may be every bit as good as the works that I noticed and list below, but that just didn’t leap off the wall for me.
I saw enough to be able to say that in general terms, as always this is a group show whose participants were chosen not by their subject matter (or lack of it), but because their pieces “worked” as art. This policy has led, year after year, to glorious exhibitions—this one being no exception.
As an abstract painter himself, Timperio has a natural fondness for abstraction, and the abstractions at Sideshow this year are particularly excellent. Many of them, especially the larger ones, nestle near the ceiling, and amply repay raising one’s eyes to the skies—but I also spotted a number of charmers down near the floor as well.
At the same time, in his role as gallerist, Timperio is catholic---in the lower-case sense of the word, meaning “broad in sympathies, tastes or interests.”
As a result, the show is also rich in uni-referential art (meaning representational or presentational). In addition to the two- and three-dimensional abstract work, it includes representational paintings, sculptures, drawings, photographs and prints, ranging in subject matter from traditional representation on through fantasy and surrealism (and with various combinations in between).
Nor does it exclude those more novel forms of uni-referential art that have been accredited as “fine art” for anywhere from fifty to a hundred years, including collage (when figurative or with writing on it), assemblage (when incorporating recognizable objects), photography, mechanized art (again, when incorporating recognizable objects), conceptual art (often with writing in it) and video.
The range of media employed boggles the mind: among those mentioned in the checklist are oil, acrylic, watercolor, gouache, pencil, graphite, charcoal, latex, ceramic, bronze, steel, candy dots, screen print, etching, lithograph, driftwood, oyster, ultralight dispersions, glass beads, a handful of different methods of photography, and that ubiquitous miscellany known as “mixed media.”
As usual, every conceivable type of work is intermingled with every other conceivable type. In some previous years, I’ve listed the works that stood out for me in the order that I saw them (working my way around the 12 walls of the two gallery spaces). In other years, I’ve tried to list these works by groups or categories.
This year, I’ve decided (with the aid of Excel, which I’m just learning) to list them alphabetically, by the name of the artist. This will save everybody the necessity of resorting to their “find” mechanisms in order to find out if I’ve mentioned their work. They can just scroll rapidly down the posting.
Before I begin my itemized list, though, I should say that – reviewing my selections -- I appear to have gone first, for beauty, second for the humor or imagination, and only third – if at all—for anger. I’m not saying that anger can’t make for great art. No less an authority than Clement Greenberg, in “Homemade Esthetics,” opined that “The Third of May” is greater than any picture Jackson Pollock ever painted, and “The Third of May” is a very angry picture. But not every artist is Goya and understands (as he clearly did) the need to correlate anger with esthetics.
True, a couple of my selections in “Sideshow Nation III” can be seen as social commentary, and to that extent may have been prompted by anger, but in both cases, the makers have distanced themselves far enough from their subject matter so that their creations evoke as at least as much visual pleasure as emotional pain.
I should also add that, as always, this show includes a number of celebrities, near-celebrities and artists whose imagery is so happily familiar that I need only mention their names to evoke an image in the mind of the reader. Thus they are, as the French say, hors concours, in the sense that their excellence is so well established that they are exempted from any need to be described by me.
In this category, I noticed works by the following 14 artists: Nicholas Carone, Harvey Citron, Dana Gordon, Liz-N-Val (that dauntless duo), Tine Lundsfryd, Robert Morgan, Loren Munk, Robert Murray, Mario Naves, Carolanna Parlato, Paul Resika, Louise P. Sloane, & Kim Uchiyama.
(This is not to say that some of the 50 artists I’m going to itemize below aren’t well known, too, but in most such cases, there is some additional reason for discussing them. I may know enough about their art to be able to say where the example of it in this show fits into their overall oeuvre—or it may simply be that I’m always drawn to their work)
SO, HERE ARE MY CHOICES:
1. Jim Anderson: “Verb Café Closing and Winter in Williamsburg” (2014), a really nice digital photograph showing a group of hip young people in a coffee shop that features caffè lattes & mochas.
2. Randy Bloom: “Always and Forever” (2014), a stunning large (64” x 37”) painting that, with its combination of short, broad, hard-edged horizontal bands of blues and greens atop paler, painterly cloud-like shapes of olive and blue, is unlike anything by this artist that I’ve been before.
3. Susan Breitsch: “Master Bedroom” (2014), an intriguing mixed-media collage that combines a large 18th or 19th century outsider portrait of a man with the image of a big modern light bulb, and a Victorian interior behind.
4. Lynda Caspe: “Flowers by the Window” (2008), an attractive traditional still life floral study in oil on canvas.
5. Dan Christensen: A lovely, medium-sized untitled 1984 acrylic on paper mounted on linen, then on wood, with white loops and streaks, interspersed with streaks of orange, rust and yellow, all contrasted with what reads like a gilded field. Christensen (1942-2007) is best known for his work of the 1960s, but this painting shows he could excel in later decades, too.
6. James O. Clark: “Use More Green--for Jake” (2015), a whimsical assemblage named for some advice that the late Jake Berthot gave Clark, it hangs high over the gallery-goer’s head and is composed of three aluminum bars, and six latex balloons, all lit by a ghostly greenish neon light.
7. Paula De Luccia: “Sideways Echoes” (2014), small, but one of this gifted painter’s very best efforts, with a rippling acrylic surface of many colors (pink, mauve, gold & silver predominating).
8. Stephanie DeManuelle: “Shell Game” (2007), an appealing abstract oil, with subdued but rich colors.
9. Peter Fox: “No Title (2013-019)” (2013), a take-no-prisoners abstract, with most of its vertical panel of museum board left blank, and just a splash of acrylic coming up from the bottom.
10. Bruce Gagnier: “Woman Seated, Looking at a Clock Jewelry” (2014), a good-looking female nude, seen from the back, and very freely rendered in red chalk.
11. Kyle Gallup: “Hartley’s Star” (2014), a provocative small semi-abstract, done in a water-based paint, showing a circular design with a star shape in the middle. More abstract than I’ve come to expect from this artist in recent years.
12. Tony Geiger: “The Unforgiven (Mule)” (2010), a somewhat surreal acrylic of a mule kicking up in a night-time scene, surrounded by floating human skulls.
13. Steve Gerberich: Two spirited kinetic pieces in this show, including the one in the window facing the street, which carries the theme of the show, and is appropriately entitled, “Circling Wagons” (2015). Ingenious as it is, I preferred the work in the show itself, “Wagon Cake” (2015). It plays on the notion of wedding cakes with a tall, narrow, silver column in the center, a small hamburger at its apex, and a small toy auto with wings circling its midsection at the end of a wire. Even though the kinetic art of the 60s is mostly consigned to storage these days (as I have said elsewhere), “Circling Wagons” and “Wagon Cake” remain fresh.
14. Philip Gerstein: “Spring Forward” (2014), a verdant composition with sticklike shapes, dominated by lively yellows.
15. Stacy Greene: “Père La Chaise #2, #3 and #4” (1979-1994), three haunting photolithographs of funerary monuments in this famous Parisian cemetery, where everybody from Oscar Wilde to Edith Piaf is buried.
16. Jerelyn Hanrahan: “Hero and Woman” (2014), two masterfully-rendered but chunky, weirdly-costumed & definitely curious 16-inch-high figurines of a man and his mate
17. Debra Jenks: “The Strange Woman and Seven Diamond Miners (pp 90-91)” (2009-2014), a conceptual work with three blue fields and lines of print scattered across them, made of acrylic on a found book transferred to digital print.
18. Kang Joo Lee: “Layers of Cool” (2014), a very likeable foot-square abstract in shades of apple green, white, black and yellow, made with acrylic and a screen print on canvas.
19. Bernard Klevicas: “Bicycle Mobile” (2014), an eye-catching contraption that hangs from high overhead, and consists of the dismembered parts of a child’s bicycle (did Alexander Calder ever realize what a genie he let out of the bottle when he popularized the mobile?).
20. Fran Kornfeld: “Eye of the Storm” (2013), one of this artist’s intricate handmade abstract paper pieces, with a wide range of radiant colors.
21. Kerry Law: “9/13/14” (2014), an evocative oil on canvas, showing the seaside.
22. Roy Lerner: “Roiled” (2003), a smaller sample of this talented artist’s work, with its characteristically riffled (or roiled) surface.
23. Rene Lynch: “Gaze (Sharp)” (2009), a touching oil showing the head of a young girl.
24. Claudia McNulty: “Tri-Rat-Eral” (2014), a hilarious grisaille latex image on handmade paper, showing three (blind?) mice, labeled “1,” “2,” and “3,” and running in a circle.
25. Robert Melzmuf: “Waves” (2014), an interesting smallish oil that, despite its title, resembles more an abstract, with horizontal strokes of blues and whites on a vertical ground.
26. Jan Mulder: “Dieewigkeit” (2014), a beautiful small oval picture made on paper, with colored inks and showing gold, with stars on it, blacks and bluish grays (German title means “eternity”).
27. Clayton Orehek: “King Kirby” (2008), a very funny assemblage composed with glass and neon, but centering on the business end of an antique vacuum cleaner, the Kirby Sanitronic.
28. Jerry Orter: “Steak,” (year of creation given in the checklist as “XXIII,” which to me suggests 2009, this being the 23rd year since, according to Orter’s entry on Linked In, he set up in business for himself); an equally hilarious simulacrum of the designated piece of meat, red and raw but made out of encaustic.
29. Larry Poons: A very fine, untitled medium-sized acrylic on canvas from 2013 that combines the wiggly brush strokes & nature-oriented color scheme of recent years (including lots of floral colors and greenery) with the commitment to pure abstraction that has been more evident in this artist’s earlier work.
30. Kazimira Rachfal: “De Kooning Would Use Them” (2013), a geometric, hard-edged abstract oil on canvas whose provocative title may refer to its colors rather than its style, as it has a straight-edged cool pink border and a rectilinear orangey pink center (both colors recalling to me De Kooning’s voluptuous but very painterly nudes of the 1960s).
31. Jacqueline Sferra Rada: “In the Swim” (2013), a kind of fun view of 18 tiny people bathing in an ocean, made with an acrylic glaze on gessoed paper.
32. Ray Rapp: “Monument Valley” (2013), a small video that interweaves timeless desert vistas with footage of what I believe to be Roy Rogers, that cowboy movie hero from my childhood, rearing back on his gorgeous palomino, Trigger.
33. Ron Richter: “The Hair-Do Wizard” (2013), a surrealistic acrylic-on-wood montage focusing on the head of a glamorous (though slightly over-the-hill) female, with cartoon characters and buildings in the background—looks better than it sounds in description.
34. Anne Russinof: “Serpentine” (2014),a very effective smallish abstract oil on canvas, with sweeping yellow and greenish-black strokes; reminded me a bit (but only a bit) of work by Darby Bannard from the 1970s.
35. Fara’h Salehi: “Shrimp” (2011), a wickedly clever small steel sculpture of what looks more like a large beetle or a cricket than a shrimp.
36. Sasha Silverstein: “After Pierre Verger (South Pacific)” (2014), a towering oil on canvas study of a nearly-nude male figure seen from the back, with one arm holding a staff and a modest piece of drapery around his loins; named in honor of a French photographer who tired of the easy life in Paris and, emulating Gauguin, headed out for the South Pacific.
37. Dee Solin: “Cosmic Mapping” (2014), skied in a dark corner is this handsome acrylic, combining colorful hard-edged discs with a painterly field.
38. Lisa Steiner: “Rooftop” (2014), a pleasant oil on linen in subdued tones, showing a view over some urban rooftops, complete with water towers.
39. Allen Strombosky: “Balancing Act” (2014), a perky small hard-edged geometric abstract.
40. Helen Thomas-Williams: “Woman Dancing” (2013), a 26-inch-high, very realistic statue of a heavy-set but still graceful nude woman, done in plastic with a bronze patina.
41. Cheyenne Timperio: Daughter of Richard, but represented here by a very modest little (8 x 10 inches) untitled and undated abstract, hard-edged & geometric with a lot of narrow little vertical yellow lines—not at all like her father’s abstractions.
42. Francine Tint: “Happy Blues” (2014), another large (48” x 21”) and very striking painting with black, apple green & night blue scrubbed-in paint--like nothing from this artist that I’ve seen before.
43. Dareece Walker: “MLK(Hands Up)” (2014), an absorbing charcoal on cardboard study of Martin Luther King, Jr., set in a gold frame and with textural interest provided by the corrugations on the cardboard.
44. Ann Walsh: “Bow” (2014), a powerful free-standing rectangle of Plexiglas, not unlike those seen in earlier Sideshow exhibitions, with vertical bands colored by vinyl and enamel in eye-shattering shades of hot pink, scarlet and crimson--but also introducing to the public a new variation: instead of being straight, these bands now curve.
45. James Walsh: “Eight Ways” (2008), a classic abstract adventure into the peaks and valleys of painting with both acrylic and molding paste, this time around utilizing mostly cooler colors – blue, gray, tan, black and white – but with one vigorous vertical outcrop of peach.
46. Robert Warhover: “Sun” (2014), an incisive inkjet photo print of a lady with an elaborate blonde hairdo.
47. Nancy Wechter: “Damian and the Jasons” (late 20th century), a startling photograph of six teenagers, wearing masks like that of Jason Vorhees in the “Friday the 13th” horror movie series, standing in East Harlem around an unmasked boy named Damian, and intended as a commentary on how young minority men are seen as frightening.
48. Bob Witz: “Kafka I” (2014), despite its title, another meaty abstract, heartily textured, though only oil on canvas, with yellow/ orange vertical bars on deep blue/green fields.
49. Arthur Yanoff: “Steerage to Ellis Island, Clouds on Liberty” (2001-04), an absolutely darling little (8” x 8”) abstract charcoal and collage on canvas/wood, with vigorous color contrasts, including a large patch of black, bright red dots, and daubs of green & brown.
50. Fulvia Zambon: “Riparian Clove” (2014), another example of this artist’s memorable ability to use traditional means (oil on linen) and a traditional representational style to lend mystery & distinction to otherwise possibly uninspiring subjects – in this case, two slender white dogs of the exotic Sicilian breed known as Cirneco dell’Etna, seated in an idyllic landscape.
THAT’S ALL FOLKS, BUT REMEMBER….
….there are still 566 artists at Sideshow whose work I haven’t commented on, and that may stand out for you more than they did for me, so I urge EVERYBODY to go and see this remarkable exhibition. There’s only one like it in the Big Apple—and maybe even in the world.