Getting to Know the Window
Through Jan. 6 at Current Gallery
Of Getting to Know the Window, Patrick David, co-curator and one of the five artists in the Current Gallery show, says: "It is made up of artists who were lurking a bit and not showing. It is personal work, done in the studio. The kind of work that sits back."
It's not necessarily true that the artists aren't showing; Max Guy, whose 18-panel mirrored piece greets one at the door, for one, has several pieces in the Nudashank/Gresham's Ghost show Gran Prix just down the road. But there is something idiosyncratic and a bit obsessive about the 21 works, by five artists, on display. There is also a dashed-off quality to much of it, where cleverness stands in for concept.
In the back of the gallery one finds a series of six black-and-white photo collages by Matthew Fox which could come from one of Max Ernst's collage novels. The works are small, but the best of them-the two titled "Seeing St. Andrew" come to mind-are extraordinarily evocative, suggesting something deeper than the surface presents.
Brendan Sullivan's series of etch-a-sketch shapes and text on a white background is defined by a witty vulnerability. They are characterized by a loose slightness, as if they are gestures rather than works, the visual equivalent of some of the shorter Guided by Voices songs. There is nothing new about using text like this, and the copy needs to be exceptionally brilliant to make it linger in the viewer's mind longer than a Facebook post; only Sullivan's best lines succeed in this.
Jeremy Roundtree's painting "Being Singular Plural" shares this dashed-off quality, but its candy-colored swaths grow in strength as cloud-like daubs begin to lend greater depth to the others, as if it is a blown-up detail from a impressionist painting. "Overgrowth"-a painting that suggest lying on the ground, gazing up at the sky through overlapping foliage (but laid out on a chevron-like grid, where a series of lines intersect at the middle and seem to make the whole thing bend)-is ambitious and powerful, without relying on narrative or cuteness.
Andrew Brehm's video "Omaha Market" could be an SNL sketch or a YouTube meme, but there is something about the absurd exchanges between a store clerk and a series of characters who pass through that comes closer to David Lynch than it does to Lorne Michaels or an Lolcat. It is deadpan and creepy, maybe even sinister; at the same time, it's funny. In one exchange, a transvestite walks up to the counter and steps out of a pair of panties, insisting that she needs to return them because they chafe her assholes (yes, plural) and get caught up in her zinger (yes, zinger). She tosses them in the clerk's face. He pushes them back nonchalantly. This happens several times, until she finally storms out and he hears her voice again, echoing in his head, and daintily sticks the panties in his shirt's front pocket as silly music plays.
Patrick David created the most powerful and original work in the show, and it seems likely that he was talking about his own work when he said the show was intended to highlight artists who have been holed up in the studio working: His highly ambitious suite of work seems the most obsessive and obsessed-over. As opposed to the tossed-off quality of the other works, his seem endlessly labored-over and hermetic. His large painting "The Pool and the Picturehouse"-composed largely of black, white, and gray hues, and defined by smudginess-suggests a giant pencil drawing of a backyard apocalypse, obsessively doodled in after-school detention. A man sits smoking a cigarette in a yard, leaning up against a picket fence as an old projector shows a film on its far side-which is about to be devoured by a giant funnel-cloud. Light from the projector, rendered in the palest of blue, shines over a swimming pool in which a shark swims.
The painting is full of existential dread, but David's three sculptural works present a sense of authentic wonder. The largest of the three, "Drive-In," is a hill of dirt and asphalt-like material built on top of a sawhorse stand. A sculpture of a miniature hill raises some interesting questions in its own right (namely: what the fuck?), but then one notices a small metal eyepiece in the front of the hill. When you place your eye against it, you find an illuminated section of a face-the nose and the eye-of what appears to be a Vermeer painting (though the brightness of the light distorts it, so it's hard to be sure). Now the title makes sense, but the questions become more pressing. Why build a hill and place a small bit of a painting inside of it? It is conceptual in the best sense in that the object itself raises a series of questions which the viewer can't answer and which will not go away.
"Honey Burn" is a small landscape with a giant (actually human-sized, but comparatively giant) human hand with a lesion on one knuckle laying across it. Beside that, "Standing Up to the Thrill," another section of earth on sawhorses, is covered by train-set foliage, in which two toy-train cars lie, wrecked and buried.
These three works seem to authentically grapple with the aesthetic possibilities of an idea, trying to work it out in each possible incarnation. They suggest the power of artistic obsession to actually bring ideas to fruition rather than simply sketching them and moving on to the next one.