The Week in Arts

Double Down: Two Weeks of Shows

Saturday night I was at Chop Suey to watch Haunted Horses and Monogamy Party perform their possessed brand of punk/metal. Haunted Horses’ sweaty guitarist bore down on his strings with an electric drill that reverberated in all my 206 bones. Then Monogamy Party took over the stage and fans turned into glazy-eyed bulls. Security guards, faces washed red in crimson light from crimson gels, wrestled offenders from the impromptu mosh pit.

Going to music shows always makes me think of art. (Everything makes me think of art.) Music in particular makes me consider the vast—or sometimes slight—differences between types of spectacle and experience. For decades visual art has been edging towards immersive spectacle and experience, in step with an increasingly experience-based economy. In this spirit, museums mount interactive installations and parties to compete with less cultured entertainment. We are told art requires participation. That it’s relational. It needs to be buffered by galas, digestible accoutrements and probably musical performance, a pop-up tattoo parlor and a bouncy castle. You will feel the effects of art in all 206 bones and it will alter your total perception of everyday life. And why not? Having entered into the arena of the participatory spectacular, visual art may be, on occasion, compared and contrasted to other spectacles—like a show at Chop Suey.

Plenty of installations hit a lot of the marks. At Gallery4Culture this month, visitors were met with a buffet table piled with cornocopias of fruit and biscuits in the shape of octopi. We were instructed to carefully make our way onto a faux dock surrounded by a shiny faux sea and faux rowboat to watch faux music videos of crooning sock puppet sea creatures. This exhibit had everything but a faux mosh pit. 

However, what’s striking about September’s art offerings is an emphasis on the art object. Paintings and sculpture proliferate. They have aura. They are rough or smooth and worked by hands. They’re materially luxurious. By holding or having them, they provide an experience of a totally different duration and tempo than that of the ecstatic, hyperreal spectacle. You’ll feel it in your bones—but only gradually.

The most monumental installation is the “three-dimensional drawing” at Suyama Space that was unveiled last Friday. Brooklyn-based artists Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen walked through the Olympic rain forest and relied on their collective memory to guide the construction of their giant paper sculpture installation, Drawn From the Olympics. They spent two weeks building it, using paper so light it could be ash. It’s as beautiful as it is somber, with the look of burned-out forests, charred roots and half-formed obsidian stalagmites.

The duo’s collaborative work is always about collective memory and what happens when they build something based on shifting recollections of a place or thing. The result tangles the real and the imaginary. Everything is inchoate; meaning is just out of reach.

The charcoal tangle of Kavanaugh and Nguyen’s imaginary Olympic forest is echoed across town at Prole Drift, where two of Amanda Valdez‘s acrylic paintings (Lost and Lost & Found) are embroidered with thick, graphite-grey thread that swirls and criss-crosses like long penciled hatch marks. The painstaking, obsessive needlework saddles the weightlessness of the sloppy painted surface. Elsewhere, as in the two versions of tide of pleasure: double down, the embroidery spills out of candy-colored voids like gushing viscera or ice cream drips.

The theme of Double Down (the exhibit’s title) is doubles, and everything is twinned in some way. In the back room is an installation called Castor y Pollux, made of cyanotype discs spangling the walls. Imaginary constellations turn the small, windowless room into a imaginary celestial observatory.

At Blindfold Gallery, Kimberley Trowbridge’s Story Tell Her is a narrative installation with curtains, furniture, typewriter and books of mythology and poetry. It’s some of her best work to date. Trowbridge spent three consecutive days at the gallery, sleeping in the upstairs loft at night, working downstairs by day.

The exhibit is a purge after a year of hard times. The largest painting on view, called Tantrum, is the center of a multi-canvas altarpiece, and it buzzes with muddy figures, a woman on horseback, armies of mounted knights clammoring underfoot.

Trowbridge has always been a painter’s painter, making colorful landscapes where figures dissolve into crystalline planes. In Story Tell Her, fragmentation of image finally passes over into the realm of the psychological. Illegibility and abstraction become modes of refusal, both as defensive measure and admission of impotence. The shattered knights are as fractured as the wood fragments littering the gallery, the self-portraits as splintered as the skeletons of stretchers and crates from which Trowbridge has built unwieldy sculptures. But it all comes together here, bound, bundled: a sort of resolution.

Another show for aficionados of painting is SOIL’s The Edge and a Little Beyond: Six Abstract Artists, curated by Julie Alexander, local painter and lover of paint.

This show wallows sumptuously in love of paint and the traditional armature of painting—the stretchers, stretching, wrapping, the canvas and the infinite plasticity of acrylic. The sculptural side of painterly materials is played with and insides are turned out, edges are made central. There’s nothing earth-shattering about the concept, but the quality of works in this show and the ease with witch they sit together (each piece is compact—not much more than 12″ across) feels misleadingly effortless.

Lorri Ott
While each of the works is fascinating, Lorri Ott’s paintings especially have a visceral quality; they look like the sweetest flesh wounds. The pink paint gapes, gingerly peeling back. Only delicate threads hobble it togeher.

In the SOIL backspace, Nola Avienne’s Heady is a totally different kind of show: a weirdly funny and macabre cabinet of curiosities, one that only Avienne could have made. Engraved biblical illustrations have been adorned with little coral phalli. Life-size, soft, knitted skulls are fitted with teeth made of resin and freshwater pearls. (Look for an interview with Avienne tomorrow.)

Up on Capitol Hill, Backwards Telescopes is an exhibit by Puccinelli, Dunkerley and Lehl—three artists who are infinitely talented and clever and are calling themselves a trio of surrealists, at least for this show. 

While I doubt any of them could have survived one of Andre Breton’s wrathful rounds of excommunications, their works in Backwards Telescopes does play with absurd imagery and classically surreal juxtapositions. Dunkerley, whose most recent solo show, Where Things Go at Joe Bar last year, was moored in obsessive compulsive wordplay, has illustrated a series of detailed gouache landscapes depicting dystopic urban design and architecture, like a valley uniformly planted with vertiginously vertical high-rise apartment buildings (LeCorbusier|Kundig).

Puccinelli’s bombastic paintings in the front of the gallery are the loudest and largest. Still wet to the touch and straining under the burden of its own grotesque excess, Sell Out Challenge weighs in at 150 lbs. and shows the headless portrait of an officer dripping in gaudy epaulettes. A giant red and white bloom sprouts from a gold braid-festooned collar. On the facing wall there’s a Jay DeFeo Memorial (a desert vista interrupted by goopy gold rosettes) as well as a painting of a mammoth, white lab rat atop a mammoth cake. Attended by a disproportionately small technician in a lab coat, Wedding Cake Topper is a monument to the unholy matrimony of science and adorable animals and bioengineering gone wrong. The price tag on this painting is what’s truly surreal: For $1,800 you can lay claim to a picture which would, I believe, hang nicely over anyone’s couch or bed.

This is how Shakespeare’s Weird Sisters decorated their bedrooms as teenage girls. On Thursday night, the installation-heavy Going Nowhere Fast; Dog and Butterfly transformed Hard L into a den of ensorcelling positive vibes, lots of polaroids and the occasional image of an erect penis.

The theme of the show was freedom—to do what you want, to be an artist, to be a witch. One of my friends was really into the idea. It’s a symbol of freedom of expression, she said, of freedom to heal oneself, to take control of one’s body through alternative methods of treatment.

If feminism finds its voice in the occult, or at least in the trappings of trendy pop satanism, so be it. The downside of such aching hipness, I thought, is that the show at times looked a like a mood board for Actual Pain or a dark day at Urban Outfitters.

Nonetheless, Sherman’s letterpress prints, both large and small, are pithy, precious, and spellbinding; Frost’s wordless video self-portraits continue to devleop a striking visual vocabulary; and Newman’s collage installation, with defaced pages ripped from fashion mags and pornos nestled amongst horoscopes and photo booth strips, make for the ultimate, convincing pastiche of ephemera crowded on a teenage witch’s bedroom wall. For any homeowners with a dark streak in need of advensturesome interior decorating, I suggest giving him a call.