Galleries hardly need to exist as physical locations anymore, now that everything is online, and documentation of an exhibit often looks better than the actual show. At least that’s what some people say. But at the point where Erika Ceruzzi’s aluminum armature touches down into (or blooms out of) one of Alex Ito’s floor sculptures, and the structure winds and looms above you as you navigate the gallery, blending in with the white pipes in the ceiling, the lighting fixtures, and the Copycat’s industrial-ghost feeling, these arguments feel false and empty. The effect of this large metal system is more elegant than oppressive, and its engagement with you and your physical space is way better than looking at a small photo on the internet.
The two artists, showing at Springsteen Gallery’s “Jardin N° 19” through Nov. 28, explore and reflect the gallery’s otherworldly, digital-feeling space, while hinting at ideas of consumerism, marketing, and tactile encounters with the world. Both artists are in their early 20s and have graduated within the last couple of years from schools in New York, though Ceruzzi has recently relocated to Baltimore. Her work in the show ties itself to Baltimore through some of the city’s ubiquitous signs and symbols, such as its sports teams’ logos, the wave in the National Aquarium’s logo, and Mr. Boh’s eye. Canvas pieces which are dyed soft, muddled pastel hues are stretched and hung on walls, or velcroed around parts of the aluminum pole/pipe armature overhead. Heat-pressed white vinyl logos sit atop the dyed fabric and, divorced from their usual environments on shirts and signs and in magazines, become interesting shapes within patterns. It takes a few seconds for me to be sure that the letters R and B are from the Baltimore Ravens’ logo, but it registers when I notice the cursive Orioles’ O, the Under Armour symbol, and “92” and “Q,” which proliferate and scatter in the pieces ‘City (four-ten)’ and ‘Denise.’ Though these symbols bombard us everyday, Ceruzzi manages to wrest a calming effect from the normal chaos of advertising.
Some of these scattered logo bits resemble hardware, like hooks and rings, which seem to reference the aluminum pipe structure, ‘Try Me,’ which utilizes two poles bolted to the ground, and a few shorter poles suspended from the ceiling. These supports hold up a large curving shape, kind of like a big ‘S’, which seems to subconsciously guide you around Ito’s floor sculptures. At the point where Ceruzzi’s and Ito’s work connects, one of the poles touches down in the middle of Ito’s sculpture, ‘In Denial of Falling (fair-weather friends),’ into a pile of white plaster pebbles that resemble those found in fish tanks. An aluminum frame, with a digital print on vinyl of a nude tattooed woman, boxes in the pebbles. Vinyl text winds around the edges of the aluminum, recalling those tacky, sentimental picture frames with phrases like: “Pulling through hard times, Living with ease,” “Best Frenemies,” and “Caps and Gowns, Ups and Downs.” Fabric leaves and a single flower (with digitally printed ad imagery on the “flora”) also bloom from the pebbles. The whole thing looks like a futuristic, faux garden accent.
Ito also seems to incorporate ideas about advertising into the materiality of objects, the digital and the real, the handmade and the technological. Even the medium of UV curable ink plays into those notions, as it cures quickly compared to other types of screen-printing ink and it’s most suitable for rigid surfaces (like metal). It’s also used more for mass production and industry rather than for fine art. The vinyl, glass, and aluminum, all sexy and shiny materials (similar to ads, magazine pages, and LED billboards), reflect the gallery’s light, and also reflect the viewer, as you look closely at the sculptures.
That light in Ito’s work reminds us of our phone and computer screens—when something lights up, out of the corner of our eye, we follow our impulse to look at it. On the wall, three vinyl prints of women in staged shots for advertising are overlaid onto aluminum panels. In all of them, the image is mapped onto the surface like it was swiped on with a preset Photoshop brush, leaving much of the bare metal surface. The images are all ridiculous on their own; ‘There Is Always an Excuse’ shows a woman blowing her nose using a roll of toilet paper strapped to her head, and ‘Casual Fridays’ uses a close-up of a woman whose necktie doubles as an umbrella. ‘100% (Either / Or)’ looks more like a basic fashion magazine editorial shot, since all we can see is her face and her blonde, windblown hair.
These pieces hint at, perhaps, the ways women are used to sell products (to ridiculous extent—have you seen the “Women Laughing Alone with Salad” meme?), while also trying to cover bases in a larger scheme about capitalism and marketing, and screens, and catching only glimpses, and not recording or internalizing anything, our material reality versus screen-based reality, the tangible and the intangible. His intent comes across jumbled, which is not incongruous to how we experience reality. I can’t even ride the bus without having to look at so many ads. I can’t go see a movie, I can’t visit a website, I can’t listen to a radio station without someone trying to sell me something. We are inundated with this post-modern multiplicity.
The relief, though, can come through art, and as a whole, the exhibition is framed neatly and serenely, with elegant shapes, subtle tones, and diffused reflections. In the daytime at Springsteen Gallery, colors from the red brick building across the street filter in through the frosted glass windows, creating the most exquisite gradient against the almost-digitally-white walls of the gallery. At the right time of day, this meshes perfectly with the muddled-pastel colors in Ceruzzi’s canvas works and the attractive sheen of Ito’s aluminum sculptures. In Ceruzzi’s ‘Denise,’ in the upper right corner, a small, embroidered patch beckons its viewer to “step back.” I did, and the warm, yellow-fading-into-blue color field of the canvas stood out, while the Bs and Os and Rs settled back into their abstract pattern. It’s only when I try to dissect it all that I get jumbled again.