Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Local and National

Chris Botta Windows, n.d.
1/2 and 1/2

The E Street Gallery presents a dynamic display of two local artists, Chris Botta and Melanie Brown. As an alternative arrangement, the 1/2 Botta and 1/2 Brown exhibition displays the work by each artist in an alternating manner that almost blurs the distinction between the works, cueing the viewer for careful examination that is both intriguing and playful.

Each artist emphasizes bold primary colors applied with swift gestures, making these primaries the unifier within the exhibition. Upon close scrutiny, one can identify the distinct, technical control of line attributed to each artist. Botta’s lines are heavier, moving towards abstraction. In his painting Windows, three structural forms advance towards the foreground through color and gesture, while the background recedes with warmer flat tones. He stylizes his forms with rich color and texture that is reminiscent of neo-expressionism while sprinkled with the humor of West Coast funk.

Melanie Brown Yellow Bellied Nymph, n.d.
Brown’s compositions are for the most part intimate in scale, but dense with line, color, and subject. Staggered within the colors and forms, the viewer finds minute renderings of monkeys, people, and birds. She plays with both bold and delicate lines, somehow making these contrasts work. One example of Brown’s skilled draftsmanship is Yellow Bellied Nymph (hung outside of the Botta/Brown pairing which evidently would have disrupted the fluidity of the main gallery show). Here a female form, rendered without upper limbs, is poised upon a selection of lettuce, carrots, bananas, all in various stages of ripeness and decay, creating seductive and disruptive suggestions of the amorous figure. Browns’ unsettling playfulness with allegory and myth adds another intricate layer to the surfaces of her craft.

One Whole Nation

Axis Gallery is currently showcasing the 6th Annual National Juried Show, curated by Dena Beard, Assistant Curator at the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive. The juror notes the distinct conceptual approaches taken by the artists in the works displayed, each implementing methodologies such as investigative, anthropological, or geological in nature. However, most of the object-based works on display reflect conventional disciplines, predominantly painting, sculpture, and now photography. Only a hand full of works challenges these mediums. For a national show, one must question in what manner object-based art reflects the state of today’s art in the US. Further investigation must be prompted to continue the dialogue beyond the gallery wall.

Kelly Falzone Inouye Providing You Protection
for the Way You Live
, n.d.
One such prompting example is the piercing title Providing You Protection for the Way You Live from the work by Kelly Falzone Inouye. The colored pencil drawing of Marlin Perkins and a wild bird is a film still from the TV show Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. This work is part of a series titled The Company You Keep, which analyzes the 60s show and its sponsor Mutual of Omaha, a health and liability insurance company. While the programming of Wild Kingdom aimed to find harmony between man and beast, Kelly redirects attention to more concrete interests by pairing these projected images with advertising slogans by the insurance company. For the contemporary viewer and the current affairs of health insurance, these pictorial and textual pairings exacerbate the statements as dubious promises contained within.

Jacqueline Langelier Untitled 4, n.d.
Returning to traditional art references, Jacqueline Langelier’s Untitled 4, plays with the canonical genre of still-life, restaging the iconic motif with modern photography using careful control of lighting, color, and composition. The attempt to encase the figure with all the historical trappings of the memento-mori is further defied by the contemporary figure and its humor. The clean and crisp images achieved by the modern idiom, captures a deceptive sense of permanence that disregards the reality of decay and mortality.

Peter Hiers Declaration of Dependence, n.d.
One of the few unconventional mediums that can be appreciated in the show is the work by Peter Hiers who uses found objects, specifically: tire treads. The fabricated rubber contains inherent associations with mass distribution systems tied with consumerism, as well as long-term ecological concerns. Hiers’ sculpture Declaration of Dependence reflects the graceful malleability of the material but denotes the dependency society has developed around this compound rubber. A major champion of this medium is the artist Chakaia Booker who has unpacked complex associations and characteristics, including femininity and blackness. In Heir’s series, there is a minimalist approach with a clear-cut critique.

Perhaps out of the 786 entries, a large part of the response was from California, as the West Coasters dominated the exhibition. Considering this outcome, can this show be considered more representative of our Golden State? Notwithstanding the evident strengths of the exhibition, for a national show, the diverse disciplines of the object-based arts were not as evident.