Art Center Studio Artist Biennial
Through Aug. 3 at School 33
Sometimes a group show is nothing more than a bunch of artwork in a room. However, at best, a group exhibition exponentially enhances individual works of art through cohesion and contrast. Thematic group shows-whether organized around media, visual principles, or the exploration of a concept-tend to be most satisfying for the viewer, providing numerous opportunities for subtle revelations. Along these lines, juried all-media shows are usually the worst, full of awkward redundancies and clashing aesthetics. You would expect a multimedia group show of studiomates to rank near the bottom of this continuum, but School 33's Studio Artist Biennial exhibit defies expectations.
Upon entering the gallery, white space greets your eye, suggesting curatorial restraint and organization from Shannon Egan, director of the Schmucker Art Gallery at Gettysburg College and guest curator of the exhibit. Although nine different artists are exhibited in School 33's large main gallery, each artist includes a scant few pieces, just enough to demonstrate the strengths of each without repetition or confusion. Instead, the exhibition is the result of confident decisions and what could have been a disorganized mishmash comes off as a highly competent and professional showing.
Although no single aesthetic dominates this show, a clear emphasis on process and craftsmanship, as well as a restrained use of color, serve to unite the individual works. David Brown's sleek paintings and prints are the most minimal of the group, but their excessive, almost mechanical patterned surfaces belie an earnest, restless energy shared throughout the gallery. "Blue Shape on Red," a modular painting covered in tiny pod shapes, combines a lustrous enameled surface with Brown's characteristic proliferations of line drawings. From a distance the piece seems slick and unapproachable, too neatly resolved, but up-close the hand-drawn quality of Brown's blue squiggles reveals uneven and wonky marks, charming in their imperfections.
Jowita Wyszomirska's work also utilizes repetitive, all-over patterning with loopy ovals, but where Brown's metallic colors reference industrialism, Wyszomirska's patterns suggest natural and biological forms. In "Across Open Plain," the artist clusters an infinite number of white, pink, peach, tan, brown, gray, and orange ovals on top of a dusky leaden background. Despite the simplicity of each individual shape, their proliferation in a complex arrangement of layers both opaque and transparent is stunning.
On the neighboring gallery wall, Chip Irvine's row of digital photos echoes the color relationships Wyszomirska investigates. The images are closeups of trickling creek beds and streams, where water glints over worn pebbles and autumn-colored leaves are burnished into velvety tones.
Although devoid of color, Jonathan Latiano's mixed-media installation, "Shattercone," relates to both the natural and industrial aesthetics in the gallery. As in many of his prior installations, Latiano augments the gallery environment in unexpected ways to create a jarring optical illusion: Is the wall actually undulating or does it simply appear to be? In "Shattercone," the artist projects a bold cast shadow, which resembles a tribal sun tattoo, through a jagged, crown-shaped sculpture and lines it up with the raised circle on the wall, creating an effect not unlike a crashed meteor or explosion, with curving shadows radiating out from the center. The effect is marginally magical. Up-close, the new plaster displays numerous cracks, so it contrasts more mightily with the original wall than it should, creating a less than seamless illusion.*
In the main gallery, M. Jordan Tierney's "Whisper Gatherer" is a complicated assemblage resembling a fantastical kitchen cart. It is oddly compelling due to its intricacy and size. Mounted on wheels, the cart features large bellows on either side and sports a giant Victrola horn. On top, dozens of tiny glass bottles, all antique, are filled with curious bits of ephemera, which are amplified in their power and curiosity by the sculpture as a whole, which seems to make a case for the value of collecting such discarded curios.
Across the gallery, Olivia Robinson's "S.W.Eat's Salted Products Wagon" is a similar size and shape, but much more functional, equipped with a working bicycle. The piece also features a tray of glass bottles on top, which is a little confusing at first but Robinson's bottles are all emblazoned with the S.W.Eat logo and contain salt. The wagon conjures up carnival peddlers, but rather than selling a sweet product, Robinson serves up the byproduct of physical labor: salt generated from human sweat. This piece questions the worth of manual labor, both from historical and current perspectives, and places a high value on it, unlike industrialized nations.
James Williams utilizes a similar nostalgia and carnival aesthetic in his three paintings, which borrow the look of Little Golden Books book covers from the 1940s. Each piece is a costumed self-portrait and features vintage lettering to describe characters: Crime Lieutanent, Super Awesome Good Man, and Little Rooster. Each is a heroic version of the artist, but set in an era, where overcoming issues of racial inequality are Herculean labors.
Lauren Boilini's "Modern Love" appears to be a contemporary take on Caravaggio's "Conversion of St. Paul," where the saint lies on his back on the ground while a large horse stands over him menacingly. In Boilini's giant painting, there are several galloping horses and several men falling underneath them. It is unclear whether the men are being trampled or overpowered, but the painted surface is full of violent slashes of blue and orange paint and thick charcoal scrawls. There's a roiling energy in both the mark-making and the composition which fills the frame with nary a negative shape, and its monumentality at 88-by-114 inches makes it a powerful spectacle to behold.
Michelle Dickson's white plaster relief sculptures feature encaustic, photo transfer, and found fabric. Compared with Boilini and Williams' paintings nearby, they are demure, but no less complex. These pieces are stark and ethereal, with wispy dresses and slips flowing from plaster bases to the ground, and images embedded into their surfaces from photo transfers and sewing. Like Tierney, Dickson recycles found items and creates poetic, ghostlike narratives through combinations and juxtaposition.
Based upon this exhibit, it would seem that School 33's Studio Residency Program fosters a competent, challenging, and evolving community of artists. More than just a physical space to make your work, it appears to be a place where artists observe, share, learn, and grow in a circle of influence with the added benefit of professional curatorial direction.
For more information, visit school33.org.
* An editing error in an earlier version of this story made it seem like the illusion was seamless, inadvertently reversing the author's position that it was less than seamless. City Paper regrets the error.