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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. Published in hard copy 2-4 times a year. New shows: "events;" hard copy rates & how to support the online edition: "works."

 

THE LATEST SUPERSPECTACULAR

Once again, it’s time for the super-group show at Sideshow, this year titled “MIC:CHECK (occupy)” (through February 26). Proprietor Richard Timperio explains that the title refers to the “human microphones” that the “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrators used to get the word out, when they were forbidden to use regular mikes. Timperio is nothing if not an anarchist, and the 489 artists in his show add to its air of cheerful chaos. Photographs taken of the opening show people lined up along Bedford Avenue to the corner, and then around the corner & back down the block. Just imagine how many friends and relations 489 artists might have! Nor did the line begin to taper off until after 9:30. Even the New York art world’s most famous Fun Couple, Jerry Saltz and Roberta Smith, were (so I understand) spotted standing there, though hell may freeze over before either admits (in print) that they’ve ventured off the isle of Manhattan. This show is at once the most famous & the best-kept secret in New York. Inevitably, in such a large gathering, not every work is a masterpiece, but reviewing it, I find more works to comment upon than I did last year, which is my way of saying that the show as a whole attains new heights.

The tribute to “Occupy Wall Street” doesn’t end with the show’s title. In the window that faces upon the street is an mechanized sculpture by Steve Gerberich, entitled “Octopi Wall Street,” and featuring a number of busily revolving little octopussies. In the back gallery is a smallish, mildly conceptual piece entitled “99% vs. 1%,” by Liz-N-Val, that venerable duo of dada whom I last encountered at Steve Cannon’s tribes gallery. Directly across from Timperio’s reception desk, in the front gallery, hangs a particularly prescient assemblage by Forrest Myers. This was created in 1980, when Ronald Reagan was campaigning to put in place the “trickle-down” economic policies which would lay the groundwork for the top-heavy pyramid of wealth that we now have in this country. Entitled “The 1%,” Myers’ piece combines a small guitar-shaped panel labeled “1%” and bearing a sign with radical sentiments on it, while at the end of a string hanging down from the panel dangles a brick labeled “trickel down” (misspelling intentional, with the emphasis on “trick”).

As always, in this show there are reasonably well-known artists of the wider art world, whose names even I have heard, in my little corner of the world: Phong Bui, Cora Cohen, Dana Gordon, Ron Gorchov, Tadashi Hashimoto, Tine Lundsfryd, Loren Munk, Mario Naves, Paul Resika, Lee Tribe, Kim Uchiyama, and Thornton Willis. I am also every year grateful that Timperio finds space for the famous and not-so-famous modernist artists whom I particularly admire. This mostly-—but not exclusively---abstract group runs a gamut from mid-career artists such as Ann Walsh, James Walsh, Lauren Olitski, Paula De Luccia, Randy Bloom, Sasha Silverstein, and Francine Tint to such senior stars as Dan Christensen, Ronnie Landfield and Larry Poons (Landfield represented this year by one of his better canvases, and Poons by a particularly exquisite small piece) New to the group this year is Cheron Tomkins, seen in a sweet little abstract, “Stand By Me,” built around circles. Both Walshes show larger examples of their work than I’ve seen in the recent past. Ann’s small tower of Plexiglas, “Feature,” employs one of her favorite color schemes (magenta, Kelly green, blue), while James’s thickened acrylic on canvas, “For the Mountain,” uses long, loose sweeps of color to create a shimmering panoply. Tint’s narrow vertical, “Pink Island,” perkily combines its title color with a frisky lime green, and Bloom’s “View from my Window” wittily portrays four squares within a square canvas, a composition I haven’t seen from her before.

Olitski’s “Beginning” is a freely-rendered sunset over a sea that carries on the tradition of her father’s late work, while Silverstein offers a large and very well furnished vertical “Interior.” Most of the paintings in this group were very recent creations, but two that stood out for me both turned out to be older. One, an undated canvas by Christensen called “Calico,” looks to have been done sometime in the ‘60s or ‘70s; it’s a tall narrow canvas with brightly-colored, narrow circles of color, spiraling upward (or downward) like a Slinky. The other, a beautiful untitled acrylic by De Luccia, turned out to have been done in 1974. The colors are muted (as were so many paintings in the ‘70s), but the composition is masterful: an olive field, with two vertical strokes of rust, daringly off-centered, three vertical strokes showing an undercoat of blue, and one vertical, near the center, of lime.

I also liked a number of other abstractions. Sandi Slone displays a picturesque painting dominated by a ballooning mass of red, “Under the Volcano, Love.” David Crum’s untitled acrylic from 2009 is marked by more vigorous color contrasts than in more recent work of his that I’ve seen, with a clear blue field and reds and yellows in the pourings for contrast. Peter Reginato’s stainless steel and enamel “Friday Morning Blues” is a delightful small multi-colored bird-like sculpture. ”Apparition,” by Ralph Raphael Fleming, is a complex combination of abstract & representational, wiggly shapes of black on gray, done on billboard paper. Louise P. Sloane offers another of her brightly-colored square-on-four-squares. Its title is “The Orangeteallav.”

In the center of the back gallery stands “5 triangles,” a 9-foot-high, workmanlike composition of 2 x 4’s by Christopher Yeatman, while “Morning Spelled Backward,” by Philip Gerstein, is a pleasant small abstract with soft, muted colors and a busy composition. Fran Kornfeld is seen to good advantage in “For S. L. (2),” a nice, very small heart-shaped blue and pink piece executed with characteristic ballpoint pen and wax crayon on paper, and I also noted an amiable small acrylic by Carolanna Parlato, “blobby,” with yummy colors—a dusty rose field, with overlapping shapes of lime, blue, lemon, pink and a green halfway between mint and forest. "Ocean Spray," by Bill Page, is a lively smaller abstract of blue, white & orange, with very shiny paint. A striking panel is by Art Guerra. Called “Richie’s Ratatouille Meal,” its media listing, “urethane,” doesn’t begin to capture the impression this image creates, of many tiny, shiny foam-like beads of brown gold and black gold with touches of green gold.

One of many virtues of this show is its combination of abstract with representational (to say nothing of conceptual, minimal, photography, assemblage, collage, etc.). If I go on about the abstracts, that may be because that’s my special area of interest, but I have plenty of sympathy with the representational works in this show, too. Prominently placed is “Night Turn,” by Jenny Lynn McNutt, a nightmare scenario, with two running rabbits, one upside down beneath the other and the two clenched together in what seems to be a death grip. Not too far away is a large (50” x 50”) sepia watercolor by Mark Strathy, “Desecration.” It reads like a cross between Piranesi, de Chirico and Dalí, with big birds flying by a giant urn, sheep, and a man digging up the floor. “Manhattan Marquee,” by Kyle Gallup, is a large, somewhat surrealistically sketchy painted collage of a street scene, featuring its titular subject front & center. Geoffrey Davis contributes what may be the thickest collage I’ve seen, rising at least 3 inches off the wall. “Butterfly flags wings in,” as it’s called, is made of oil, leaf and linen, with many shiny little crumpled shapes alternating with what look like opaquely colored blossoms.

To the ultra- but still-moving traditional: Xico Greenwald is seen to fine advantage in “still life w. black jug,” an attractive and ever-so-slightly mystical composition with the jug and some fruit (?) in a bowl with standing clothespins, all done in delectably pale colors. “Plumb Bob,” an oil on canvas by Elizabeth Riggle, has a strange subject but one that resonates with anybody who has endured back troubles: a view of the vertebrae in the lumbar region, finishing off at the bottom, with the coccyx (or is it the sacroiliac?). Oddly poignant is “Dog,” a sculpture of such an animal made by Noa Bernstein out of sisal fiber on Structo-lite over mesh and armature with rosewood: the slightly hairy quality of the sisal gives the animal an almost lifelike quality. The aptly-named Ilene Sunshine is responsible for “Pink Point,” a nifty little pink, white and black collage with mulberry leaf and gesso (among other things). Lydia Viscardi's “Crib” is a lacquer-like oil and collage showing the interior of a nursery; at first glance, it looks natural enough---until you realize that a child is trapped in a cage underneath the crib, formed by the crib’s side slats having been lowered to the ground.

Another neat (though slightly naughty) image is a gouache-and-watercolor or maybe a collage, entitled “Shazam-Ouvert” and by Kristine Taylor. Viewed from the floor at its perch high on the wall, it looked like a pair of black lace panties with a hole in the crotch—possibly a prop for a porn movie? Or is it just that I have a dirty mind? Lower down on this wall is a really appealing, almost grisaille small beachscape, “Provincetown Bay,” by Margery Mellman. Jayne Holsinger has a larger & equally idyllic gouache of bathers. Entitled “Waterfall,” it most unusually employs the watery qualities of the gouache to simulate the waterfall. Ken Butler's clever assemblage is “Snowshoe Cello,” and combines the strings and head of a cello with the snowshoes that form its body and neck. Among the photographs, one that I most related to was a haunting study of a man by Tetsu Okuharo. Among the most traditional and well-done studies of figures, I particularly liked those of Philip Howie, (“Stu at Spotty Dog,” pencil); Chuck Bowdish (“Standing Woman,” bronze); Denise Corley (“Son of Bellini,” gouache, tempera and pencil); and Phyllis Herfield, “Portrait of Robert Indiana” (oil on wood).

As always, “MIC: CHECK,” is a family affair. I say this not only because “At the Banquet of Alphabetic Form, No. 1,” by Kara L. Rooney, is one of those “dimensions variable” piles of children’s building blocks. I also say it because when I dropped by to see the show on a recent Sunday, I found two strollers, accompanied by 5 children & four or five adults--together with 2 more adults & 2 more children, the latter lying on the floor and making drawings in a little sketchbook. One family's pet, a German shepherd, was also wandering around. But the final reason I say that this is a family affair is because so many artists in the show are related to other artists in it. Timperio himself leads the way: since both his daughter Cheyenne and his son Willy are talented artists, their work is very naturally included. Don Christensen accompanies his late brother, Dan, and Noah Landfield is represented in addition to his father Ronnie. Then we have husband & wife teams: De Luccia & Poons, James & Ann Walsh, and sisters (twins, I believe), Carol and Cathy Diamond. Most touching of these relationships concerns Ivana Salander, who has exhibited in this show in the past, and asked Timperio if her father, Larry Salander, could participate, too, this year. As a result, her graceful “Jardin au Claire de Lune” is on view, a pale beige horizontal board with paler ecru designs upon it. But so are three minuscule (5” x 7”) acrylics on paper, beachscapes entitled respectively “Beach Music,” “Golden Morning,” and “Autumn.” They evoke a powerful sense of openness & freedom—-qualities that may be in short supply whenever Larry Salander is now.

Finally, lest we get too serious, James O. Clark has created a wondrous assemblage like none I have ever seen before. “Sounds Fishy to Me” utilizes a barbecue stand, with the grille upon which hamburgers are normally placed, removed. In the pit where charcoal should go is a fishpond, with tiny goldfish swimming around in it. On either side are what may be sensors & may be loudspeakers—I’m not sure which, but when the viewer moves up to inspect this concatenation, his or her movement activates lights and music—snatches of golden oldies from the 70s. Startled by all the movement & noise, the tiny goldfish swim around even more madly, while a curious stuffed animal, mounted on the underside of the raised lid of the barbecue stand, wags its head and tail--these being fish-like, though its body is covered with squirrel or rabbit fur. Go figure.
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