Crits' Pixby Shane McAdams
Black and White Gallery, July 2004
Summer is here, and with it that most unpredictable of beasts: the summer group show. Our chances for variety, new blood, and new ideas increases along with poorly conceived afterthoughts and sticky hot opening receptions. And, as is often the case, the quality of what we see is determined by curatorial savvy.
Some would argue that the curator should function as an invisible hand guiding a show conceptually and inconspicuously from behind the scenes. Crits’ Pix, a group show at Black and White Gallery, balks at this notion, celebrating the curator’s touch with a two-tiered approach to the process. Lily Wei has opted to delegate her own duties as principle curator to five young critics (Carly Berwick, Stephanie Cash, Peter Eleey, Benjamin Genocchio, and Reena Jana) each selecting two "underexposed" artists for the show. Wei’s division of labor has indeed brought fresh blood and variety to the gallery, and if the show is a bit uneven, it is to be expected from six sets of eyes working independently of one another.
Four small gouache paintings hang on the near wall of the gallery as you enter. Each of Michael Short’s works draws its structure from an internal logic governing the distribution of colored squares over a precise grid. "And God Saw I Was A Dog" (2002) employs the inherent symmetry of the nearly palindromic title phrase toward a playful interplay between text and geometry. Short’s small puzzles are genuinely intriguing, but, in their modesty, don’t match (and don’t want to match) the gravity of Julian Montague’s impressive cultural anthropology experiment-cum-artwork on the opposite wall. "The Stray Shopping Cart" is a case study aiming to catalogue hundreds of abandoned grocery carts in his hometown of Hartford, Connecticut. An array of letter-sized cards note each cart’s "state" and "class" based on its place of rest and potential for mobility. Despite Montague’s clinical approach, he arouses sympathy for the carts as we inevitably begin to characterize them as marginalized individuals, lost and scattered along the urban landscape. This is Montague’s point, to be sure, and in making it he manages to tread the line between humor and social commentary with careful grace.
Anna Pedersen’s enamel and Mylar compositions suggest networks of nerve cells or cultures on the agar of a Petri dish. Her organisms twist, pull, and vie for space on the surface of their translucent environment. This particular subject matter, painted soothingly in tones of vermilion, becomes surprisingly lyrical and appealing in Pedersen’s hands, though their pictorial delicacy is challenged by the swell of Montague’s nearby carts. Pedersen’s lively, colorful imagery lives more comfortably in the presence of Kim Bennett’s juicy ink and watercolor "fantasies" nearby. Nonetheless, a touch of ambiguity would help activate her microscopic world.
An inclusive installation of logos and pop-objects by Jon-Paul Villegas cradled in the gallery’s rear takes the show on a quick detour. The strength of the installation, despite being a single composition, comes from the eccentricity and disparity of the sources themselves: a Frank Thomas figurine dwarfed by its three-foot high pedestal, a sharp graphic of a faceless child, and most notably, several hot-glue sculptures that nearly defy classification. Prehistoric lobsters armored in buttons draped in hot wax?
The back courtyard offers three pieces of "site-specific" sculpture, the most intriguing of which is David Shapiro’s "HELP." The PVC pipe sculpture stands tall and quietly insistent against the cinder block wall at the back of the patio. Truly site-specific, Shapiro’s sculpture finds success in restraint; so much so that it hides in the architecture for a while before appearing. Although it stands ten feet high, it whispers a subdued plea for "H-E-L-P," and its patience is rewarded with, literally in fact, the final word in the show.
"HELP" is too strong a word to end on though. Crits’ Pix could have benefited from a little evening out here and there, but the overall freshness of the work makes up for this. I think it is safe to say that by the end of a long, coolly regulated year we are ready to risk the heat for a chance to be pinched by something new.