The Local Sceneby Rachel Youens
Artists flocking to Williamsburg were once drawn not only to cheap rents but also to the spectacle of its industrial setting. Yet the eighteen-month-old workers strike at the Domino factory now serves as a reminder, a subliminal backdrop to what the Williamsburg art scene is both indebted to and what it avoids. To tacitly ignore the suffering of workers whose production is not fairly or properly reimbursed with a favorable wage is really to neglect our own interests both as citizens and as artists. Now that the last vestiges of local industries are being displaced by an infiltration of real estate interests seeking to cash in on the heightened critical attention being given to neighborhood art, artists—whether we acknowledge it or not—are caught between the obvious aesthetics of industrial production and the lure of gaining upward mobility into the higher plateaus of the art world. As artists who hope to use the neighborhood as a springboard to SoHo, Chelsea, and the international arena, through strategies and résumés of careers yet-to-be-made, must we have only a one-sided view of the role of industry in our neighborhood? On weekends, the workaday gallery scene showcases a mix of grit sprinkled with splatters of glamour. While still exuding the promise of an alternative, Williamsburg’s collective, workerist artistic mindset may have existed among the first wave of aesthetic pioneers only. Its current story remains to be told.
This two-person show is organized around the conceptual questions of whose and what reality we inhabit. Elizabeth Campbell addresses this question in her large installation titled “A Standardized Affectation for Telepresence.” It consists of a “house” with two rooms separated by a hallway, each room mirroring the other in which two exact replicas of the contents of a young woman’s bedroom pile-up. For you the viewer, an apparently simple choice is presented between left and right, but Campbell actually offers this fascinating trompe l’eoil duplication of her own past as a metaphor for the immutable potential of the future upon which every choice, insignificant or conscious, can be a determining factor in each of our lives.
Guy Richards Smit was last known as swashbuckling stand up comic “Jonathon Grossmalerman” in videos and performances that satirized and parodied male art stars in the ’80s. He is an engaging comedian, and his performances cleanse our envy abhorrence of, and identification with the self-aggrandizing excesses of the ’80s art world; his “politically incorrect” drawings of power relations between men and women, though, fall short of encompassing the ambivalence of the battle between the sexes. “The Ballad of Bad Orpheus,” a musical, is Smit’s latest piece. Based on Jean Genet’s Querelle, its youthful characters sing their way through camaraderie, sexual ambivalence, and sadism, expressing feelings of betrayal as they unconsciously play the part of the pawns on a historical stage. Through January 15th.
SideShow’s “Metro, Buildings and People” is a two-person dialogue based on the texture and resonance between Judy Simonian’s iconic portraits and Bob Witz’s visionary sculptures. Simonian plays the individuality of her subjects in large-scale portraits that recognize each person as a composite being who, fractured by the impersonal gaze, is rescued at point blank range by the artist. In her previous work, Simonian has drawn on newspaper photos and snapshots of the multitudinous everyman, from children to criminals. The impact of depersonalized objectivity filtered through an emotional connection now haunts her portraits of acquaintances and more intimate friends. These assemblages, made from the detritus of photographic advertising which the artist washes with layers of paint, and whose surfaces are broken with tender and aggressive marks, offer flickering insights and fleeting surprises.
At first glance Bob Witz’s painted sculptures look like humbled kitsch. Made out of cardboard milk containers with a chimney plopped into the open spouts, each personified nose tilts upward ready to challenge any passerby. Many works are covered with layers of paint whose weight emphasizes the hollow interiority of their sculptural form. The effect of these works builds slowly as they begin to yield a nutritive return on passages of the fugitive. Witz combines a visual range of quotes including Jasper Johns, the Laocoon, Bob Dylan, and Don Quixote with the fluid structure of paint to bring modulations of voice to these objects' heroism in an era of mock prophets in the city of Babylon. Through December 18th.
Mark Masyga’s paintings track diagrammatic structures of things like concrete constructions, piles of plywood, scaffolding, sidewalks, and imaginary detours. These building blocks are “areas,” perhaps aerial views, painted with an economy of means, that are stranded, perhaps ensconced, in the muted emptiness of the picture plane. Masyga is inspired by the work of Bernard and Hilla Becher, and shown in conjunction with the paintings are his photographs of neighborhood industrial sties, panoramically assembled; these, in turn, are the source material for his methodically synthetic paintings. Masyga is developing a sensibility through his application of rules. For example: to paint faster than one can walk, or to use, say, three brushes and only a hundred words. The paintings are modest and their distrust of masterly values not only contributes to their effect of alienation, but also gives the works an impact of forthrightness. Through December 17th.
Jane Fine’s last show of organically geometrical paintings in heavy pinks and humid greens balanced an interesting approach to the urges of curiosity with a resistance to it; she continues in this vein for her current show of paintings and drawings. Noting that her work operates “between entropy and crystallization of form,” Fine’s paintings shift from the romance of mark-making, asserting the problematics of perception and formation, to ironic displays of ennui and indeterminacy. Her current drawings divide these territories in half between figure and ground, employing elegant stretched and buoyant marks over heavily encrusted, dripped territories. Through December 18th.
While artists in Williamsburg imaginatively address the relationship of the marginal artist to the superstar, their counterparts from one of the few nations of South America with a vibrant middle class, Uruguay, explore similar ground through the use of dream work in their videos. Julia Castagno plays a handicapped character who imagines her pop idol transported to her bedside where they perform a duet together, while Paula Delgado presents herself as “Dentachica,” a super-heroine character, who, through microchip dental implants, is granted new powers to change society for the better, and who can now request the visitation rights of idols. Audio from a hygiene video originally produced under the dictatorship in Chile, meanwhile, is re-performed and lip-synched by Umpierrez and Castagno into a slapstick-style routine. Hygiene and idol worship in these works thus serve as metaphors for the displaced citizen and star-studded artist. Through January 8th.
ARENA AT FEED
“Science Fare” includes Jody Culkin, Jody Hanson, Joanne Hanson, Javier Pinon, Terrence R. Pompino, and Matt Schwede. For contemporary artists science can be a pastoral form of remembrance, a time that began with the Renaissance, when art and science informed one another. Now that the frontiers of science take place at the sub-atomic level, its archaic predecessors of categorization and empiricism can be brought to the fore and aestheticized. Visit Arena to see the most current of transmutations and deformations of the immutable laws of science, which may be thought of as the snake of art who eats the tail of science. Through December 17th.
IM N IL
In The Last Thing You Remembered, curated by Matt Freedman, the concept of memory that events themselves are affected by our emotional replasticizing of them, making the art of memory a process of continual revaluation and revelation. Our memory is shaped and reshaped through progressive emotionality. Since Freedman also proposes that memory and the immediate moment are locked in a continually fluctuating reverie, he has chosen artists who capture time sequentially, mechanically, through the medium of a sort of projective flicker. Hermann Feldhaus creates an interactive film installation; Daphne Fitzpatrick, a short film played in a video loop. Bill Morrison and Laurie Olinder will collaborate on a video and silde installation. Tim Spelios will present photographic collages based on urban landscapes, while Brian Coleman will install photographic collages based on an architectural project. All these artists, at some level, stage encounters highlighting and contrasting the conflicted engagement between emotion and reality, in order to find a clue: to thrust memory from the past forward into the present, and into the lure of the future. Through December 10th.