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mar/apr 2010
vol 4 issue 4
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Haber Arts
the poseur
“Pleased To Present”

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Jered Sprecher at Kinkead Contemporary
Jered Sprecher titled his show of paintings — mostly oils of variable mid-size dimensions (e.g., between 14x11 and 72X54 sq. in), Monumental Dust— a title no less abstruse or arcane than some of the titles for the individual paintings — though after a second viewing both began to make a loose poetic sense. Though the titles suggest a preoccupation with language, Sprecher's focus is clearly on painting and picture-making and the tension between the two. As "pictures," the paintings present a dynamic tension between scrim and screen and what both viewer and maker project against them and what may be sifted beneath compositional planes and textural surfaces. As "paintings," the tension is of a more familiar stripe: the well-demarcated color field washed over or under something less defined or clearly apprehended; the gestural mark or surface incident versus the structural definition of edge or border. The surfaces are almost all heavily worked, with bottom-most layer taken from abstract, invented or even photographic material, and washes or fields of color built up progressively in concert or contrast with their contrapuntal structural organization.

As if underscoring the "picture-making/seeing" problem, the prism — straight-on, broken, subdivided, fractalized or dissolved entirely — is a favored device. The Picturer open up a symmetrical blood-orange prism into a "hall of mirrors" perspective overlaying an interstitial prism in gray rhomboids with a recession of black-and-gray triangles and rhomboids receding to the center; acid-yellow stripes laid on the right side, as if in defiance of its color-structure. Also surface hatchings and "perforations;" the lozenge in various renditions — sometimes worked into an all-over basket-weave plating — which may give some hint regarding Sprecher's fascination with pictorial puns. Language and Desire floats a black-amethyst-purple-pyramidal-basket-weave over a surface of larger blocks or bars of silvery iris-blue and black both scraped back to the canvas, itself washed over with silver and vaporously pale blues and threaded through a mix of blues and silver dripping into a kind of oil slick of color in the lower quadrant of the canvas which is then brushed or scraped horizontally across the surface. Four circles of black and silver — ghostly or opaque — float over the whole. The other paintings in the show served up comparable visual ambiguities and conundrums — to dazzling effect.

Ezrha Jean Black

Mel Bochner @ Marc Selwyn Fine Arts
Artists who work with words, not simply implied narratives, but words quite literally painted onto the canvas, are sometimes judged more harshly in terms of the critical analysis of their work, being that words are made to stand in for images. Working with words is difficult given that words are even more inextricably bound to literal meaning than images.

It's simultaneously a quandary and a challenge, yet artists like Monique Prieto and Mel Bocher feel compelled toward language, invoking a multiplicity of meanings as words begin not to "mean" anything, but transpose into a strange unknown linguistic hybridization uniquely its own.

Bochner's "Failure" for example begin with this simple, all-too-familiar word, brightly painted, yet halfway through, the word changes color, becoming the word "Flop," then "Fiasco," on and on until we reach the penultimate "Have A Dull Tool," and finally "Go Tits Up In A Ditch," which implies violation, albeit in a comical tone. In each of these paintings, words are stretched out toward their subtextual meanings, and in each case we see that our human language is at its core unstable. It can't be counted on, yet it's all we have, and it must needs do so much as communication continues to break down, creating in its place disparate meanings that continue to open out.

Eve Wood

You Can Heal Your Life: artists include: Sister Corita, John Espinosa, Gustavo Godoy, Dawn Kasper, Jason Meadows, Aleksandra Mir, Jen Liu, Josh Podoll, Jeni Spota, Jose Alvarez and Thomas Lanigan Schmidt @ Circus Gallery
Contemporary visual art would most likely never ascribe to any New Age constituencies, or herald the coming of the Golden Age of spirituality. Great art ascribes to nothing but itself, and its own making, taking no sides and no prisoners. Emma Gray knows this, and has put together an exhibition that seeks not so much to delineate any one particular belief system, or debunk another, but rather to create an alliance between the impulse to ask vital questions through visual means as a visual artist and the "visions" that constitute and inform any religious or spiritual practice.

Each of the artists included here address spirituality as an endlessly suggestive and shifting terrain wherein the impulse to worship becomes far more interesting and engaging than any specific "answers" that might be found, or not, on the other end. John Espinosa's "Paranoid Paradise" casts the ever-changing and elusive David Bowie as the grief-stricken Mary, and crying blue and green tears into the bargain. Bowie, like Christ, himself has long been a figure of mythic proportions, sensual and enigmatic, and the pairing of Bowie with Mary, their bodies merged together in this low-tech laser print on shaped wood, only serves to mythologize them all the more. Thomas Lanigan Schmidt's "Purple Box Chapel ca 1970- 1973" incorporates materials such as tinsel, foil, cellophane, saran wrap and glitter into a quiet mélange of wistful longing for the ultimate religious reliquary. The objects that symbolize any religious practice from Christianity to Judaism to Islamic faith, are often more compelling and seductive than the dictates they have come to symbolize, and Schmidt's wonderfully playful and strangely zealous object of false antiquity, is oddly sentimental and reflects a purposefully "crafty" sensibility.

Only Sister Mary Corita's brilliantly colored serigraphs seem out of place here in the studied mishmash of voices and visions. Her words of wisdom, while inspiring, seem out of place paired alongside the more contemporary and youthful visions of artists like Dawn Casper, Josh Podell, Jeni Spota and Jose Alvarez. Her intentions seem more specific and pure, which is valid and affecting, albeit lost among the other voices here.

Making work about a "theme" can be challenging and sometimes difficult, but all in all, the artists in this exhibition have "delivered" themselves forward into the 21st century, and as 2012 is around the corner, we might all do well to heed our own internal tolling of the bell and get with some program, any program, of personal truth and healing wisdom. After all, hell fire might not feel so good after all.

Eve Wood


PAUL MADONNA at Electric Works Gallery
The Bay Area artist/cartoonist/writer Paul Madonna is well known for his "All Over Coffee" comic strip in the San Francisco Chronicle, featuring meticulously rendered ink-and-wash street scenes endowed with "voiceovers" of poignant or ironic text. "Album" is Madonna's new show of drawings and paintings, but it's also this veteran zine creator's new annual publication, beautifully printed, and it displays his sensibility as clearly as do the large original paintings (ink, watercolor, colored pencil, gouache, acrylic) of 1970s toys. A partial inventory of these vanishing treasures includes: a handheld Mattel baseball game with big klunky buttons; thumbkin rubber critters of various species; rubber-band-powered balsa airplanes; a floppy disk marked "totally old school (in Sharpie, of course); an art deco water pistol; a fanny pack. Madonna's verbal dexterity is evident here, too, with such koan-ish titles as "The people loved him/The critics hated him" and its converse, "They're not delusions of grandeur if you fail," "You have to know your mind before you speak it," "What will become of me if I give up all of my obsessions?" and "We never change — we just become more of who we really are." Nostalgia has never been better.

DeWitt Cheng


"Quick While Still" @ Heist Gallery
It is well known that many commercial properties in Manhattan are sitting vacant because of the economy, and for the past year quite a few pop-up or temporary exhibitions have appeared in these empty spaces to take advantage of what is essentially free or reduced rent. "Quick While Still," curated by Colin Huerter and presented by Heist Gallery, took advantage of a long, bare-bones space at 143 Madison Avenue that was in need of renovation to display large-scale paintings by six New York-based artists. Katherine Bernhardt's Borgo Nuovo and Lite Blue (both 2009) painted in acrylic and spray paint on canvas, depicted Swatch brand watches in her quick and gestural style that she has become recognized for. The odd-shaped, sculptural paintings of Wendy White also stood out, with Reformer (2009) a particularly strong grouping of geometric forms, some of which are hollow. Covered in canvas that she has scribbled on, stained and masked-off, the faded hues are in sharp contrast with their asymmetry. While not as extreme as Bernhardt or White, Mark Gibson's ink-and-acrylic landscapes set off a mysterious mood with a loose, yet confident hand and were another highlight of this collection of works meant to highlight the materiality of paint and the act of painting itself.

Chris Bors

Richard Misrach @ Pace
Richard Misrach has been making color landscape photographs for over 40 years and is known somewhat of a traditionalist, whose goal was to observe and capture the natural world with his large format camera, preserving the details, for example, of the night skies and the desert landscapes exposing both nature's beauty and man's interventions.

To see him go digital is quite a shock. The images play with our expectations of both the natural landscape and what we expect from a Misrach image. Taken with a high end digital camera as positive captures, the photographs are still frames around the observable world, yet the prints are presented as inverses. That Misrach has embraced the digital comes as a surprise, not that an artist can not expand their practice, but because then the rules become limitless. The possible manipulations of the image are infinite. The question becomes, how are these distortions of reality? The answer, in addition to the fact that all reproduction distort reality in some way, is that they are only negatives. The true colors have all become their opposites.

The actual images are stunning to behold. They present an otherworldliness, as the familiar becomes strange, the shapes recognizable, but the colors are beyond the realm of what is expected or observed. In this new palette the ocean is pink, the sky tones of gray and yellow, the mountains blue. The details, as in all of Misrach's works, are sharp and clear. The large size of the photographs draws viewers in. The images at first glance confronts one's sense of space. The journey through this unknown landscape is haunting and intriguing yet ultimately not quite satisfying as the process — a simple shift in the color spectrum — undermines the power and the beauty of the natural world.

Jody Zellen

Claire Fontaine @ Reena Spaulings
For such an unfriendly space, Reena Spaulings looks surprisingly domestic. Through January the grim Chinatown walkup has a litter box, houseplants hang from the ceiling, and a vacuum cleaner purrs away.

Do not settle in too quickly. The artificial plants twist slowly in an artificial wind. The industrial-scale vacuum pumps air into or out of a pressure meter. No one sweeps up when crystalline "litter" spills onto the floor, and it would not help with odors anyway. The only wall decoration is a threat.

The wall reads Grève Humaine, or "human strike" – Claire Fontaine's successor to a general strike, or mass worker's uprising. The big block capitals fade to white, as the bright red of kitchen matches falls away, leaving only holes. The matches make the message more incendiary, but also more everyday — and a nice bilingual pun on strike.

The French can still remember a general strike as a threat, and Claire Fontaine remembers art in crisis. The artist collective — or, as "she" prefers, readymade artist — takes its name from France's best-selling school notebooks. The artist exists, but as "herself the equivalent of a Brillo box" (or maybe litter box). In fact, "we are all readymades." The only promise lies in that human strike.

Fontaine conceives each object lesson as a separate work, like the hanging plants, based on a Miami storefront. Together, though, the works hold out a comic vision. And maybe one day the art scene's creative spark, like a box of matches, will explode.

John Haber


STEVE BAIBAK @ Togonon Gallery
If you find the title of Steve Baibak's exhibit to your liking, the sculptures themselves are likely top come across as oddly human and engaging — weird, anthropomorphized agglomerations of found and recycled materials that seem strangely animated, for all their apparent decrepitude. They're like Kafka's Odradek, a cheerful ragtag creature made of "old, broken-off bits of thread, knotted and tangled together, of the most varied sorts and colors..." traversed by small wooden rods and crossbars — in short, a mysterious bit of living domestic junk (perhaps related to Lewis Carroll's Borogove, a disheveled bird resembling a live mop?). The denizens of Baibak's menagerie have oddly evocative titles like Lan Hondobin and Ovalee Optin, and the artist provides a materials list that summons up memories of pretentious restaurants we have known and loved. Woeloness Cove, for example, is "an earthy chunk of archery target dappled with fissures and rings of acrylic paint, infused with a felt hat acquired on an old piano in Oakland, California, all riding on a wild swoop of scrap signage." Tritanphork is "a pitchforked topographical foam archery target with an acrylic crust and faux birch bark hooves, presented on post mounted to a heavy hunk of what is suspected to be a dead fir tree from somewhere in California." Sagmortis is "a red-oxide "Dogloo" dog house upended, wearing a bowling-bag fedora, and infected with boilly balls covered by a skin of lace."

DeWitt Cheng
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