Sunday, May 15, 2005

Current Exhibits in Williamsburg

I'm just dipping my toes back into the art world. I'm not and have never been a professional visual artist, art critic, reviewer, or collector, though I've dabbled and fantasticized in all of those categories. Teaching and working on my dissertation have the past couple years prevented me from keeping up with what I consider a serious hobby of mine. Summer has arrived, however, in my academic calendar, and so I took advantage today to venture out to Williamsburg's Taste event. Art galleries offering free food? I'm there.

Pierogi had, as usual, two intriguing exhibits.

In the main room were paintings by Johan Nobell (images in link), who makes pop fantastical landscapes in a color palette that reminded me of Takashi Murakami and a close but loose and outlined brushwork that made me think of 18th and 19th century Japanese history paintings and also of the comics artists who've been inspired by them. Nobell's paintings have a static quality to them, however: while the techniques that he's using tend toward the narrative, his landscapes are more surreal montages, emblems. The work is compelling, but I feel as though there might be one or two steps that are missing in his thought, although I can't quite put my finger on what they might be.

More interesting to me, although messier, wilder, and more dangerous to promote, were the drawings of Martin Wilner, in the back room. Dangerous because word-based: as a literary type, I get nervous when visual artists venture into word territory because so many of them use words so poorly. And also because so entrenched in contemporary concerns: most of Wilner's works at Pierogi seem to react specifically to political events after 9-11, especially his beautiful and explicitly political reworkings of world maps (none of which are shown in the Pierogi online link, although the gallery's postcard choses a map drawing to represent the exhibit, curiously enough). The maps made me think of an educational toy that I played with as a child: the picture divided into squares and all mixed up. One space was left in plastic grid so that the child had room to manoeuvre the squares around to resolve the unity of the picture. Similarly, Wilner left square blanks in his mixed-up maps (handily labelled with sites of disturbing--although not obviously politicizable--events), blanks that prompt the viewer to reorder the confused world. I also enjoyed the butterfly-formatted narrative drawings, shown in bad resolution on the link, but not quite as much.

Momenta gallery has up a bit of a mish-mash, as usual, not clearly explained or contextualized. There were some very arresting photos of professional sex there; there were some conceptualized copies of Wal-Mart goods there.

Plus Ultra
gallery showed off the very nice work of a single artist, Trevor Wentworth, who makes mini-installations/models and paintings. Wentworth's models are rather more interesting than his paintings, as they create almost architectural city-scapes of the biological marvels that move his work. In conversation with the gallerists, one of whom is Obsidian Wings' Edward Underscore*, I learned that Wentworth doesn not appreciate representations of his art that emphasize its connection to the architectural and the landscape traditions. To which, I pretty much have to say: "tough shit." What is to me most moving about Wentworth's work is his using some of the teachniques of architectural modeling in completely aestheticized and theoreticized directions. Serious architectural models leave me almost completely cold, but Wentworth's three-d, precise fantasias on biological vision in the mode of architectural modeling are extraordinary--and made me want to be more fair to those architectural models that bored me before.

Black and White Gallery showed a young artist, Megan Forster, whose work showed potential but seemed at this point to be derivative. Yes, painting empty consumerist spaces can be understood as manifesting the hollowness of our current moment, but if the style is reminiscent of Apple advertising, one might be forgiven a few qualms, I hope?

*This was my first venture into meeting internet folk in the flesh, and I must say it gave me hope. Ed is courteous, open, easy on the eyes, and remembers online nicks--even of those who, like myself, don't post that often. New York-based ObWi posters, go to! (I feel safe in saying this, keeping tabs as I do on my sitemeter.)


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