On ViewThe School
June 5–December 3, 2022
Welcome to the twenty-first century. We are living in a world of simmering fires, the specter of global war and a pandemic that has not yet died out. Stressed World, currently on exhibit at The School, Jack Shainman’s grand alternative art space in Kinderhook, NY, includes work by thirty artists from all over the world. In the looming global catastrophe implied by the exhibition’s title, all of us are in pain and everyone is implicated. I spent three hours entirely alone at The School on Saturday, August 19th, while the outdoor temperature reached 101 degrees, a record high for that day, and I returned the following scorching Sunday.
Stressed World is a show made of artworks that are largely handcrafted: painted, carved, drawn, cast, or assembled. They’re mostly intimate and human scale with some exceptions. At the entrance stands Cuban sculptor Yoan Capote’s weighing scale, Status Quo (Reality and Idealism) (2010). On its left side, a gleaming bronze pan rests heavily on the floor while a smaller darker pan hangs low on the right. Welcome to the land of inequality. El Anatsui’s Stressed World (2015), a recycled metal and copper wire assemblage for which the show is titled, is mounted in the five thousand square foot basement, formerly a gym.
The show unfolds on three floors—installation spaces large and small are shaped by ghosts of classrooms left behind. Storage, for example: Michael Snow’s second-floor projection of an open window and shade lies directly beneath Shimon Attie’s short narrative film of a deadly game of wartime roulette —both in the same tight space, though a floor apart.
On the building’s north side, several turns led me to Ifeyinwa Joy Chiamonwu’s Agwu (2020), a graphite-and-charcoal self-portrait, named for a Nigerian divine oracle—people possessed by her are often spiritualists and artists. A brown ceremonial mask covers her left cheek; on her right side a glaring eye seems to dare us to enter, even while a white mark drawn under that eye serves as a symbol of initiation. The four edges of this drawing show the Nsibidi symbols Eke, Orie, Afor, and Nkwo, known as the forces that created Igbo traditions and culture. Upstairs in the second-floor girl’s bathroom you’ll find two graphite portraits by Chiamonwu created from multiple shades of gray that conspire with a narrow brush—or stylus—to make very fine lined drawings. Meanwhile, multiple iterations of Claudette Schreuders’s squat girls and boys (2015–2022) made of wood, bronze, or patinated bronze can be seen in the corridors on every floor.
The show’s title was on my mind when viewing Gehard Demetz’s two statues of forgotten boys, black eyes for the one positioned in an alcove, the other embraced by the amputated arms of a lost parent. You had to think of Ukraine. Like the artist’s other work. These statues’ bodies, their surfaces, are made from small faceted and carved units, a kind of late cubism though the face and hands are untouched.
On the second floor northeast, Jackie Nickerson’s digital C-prints Gray Head, Clear Head, and Wrapped Head (all 2019) are hung on a wall of a sizable classroom space. The faces and bodies are decked out sartorially for the new desperate age we may be entering: WHAT DO WE WEAR?
I lingered the longest in French Canadian artist Lyne Lapointe’s second floor
southwest installation space where solitary painted figures, mostly frontal and mostly female, are adorned with glass dolls’ eyes, glass grapes, sewing pins, crystals, and playing blocks all locked into their handmade white wooden or colored frames. The real life of the painted frame, the fraying cloth… all are animated by the female characters’ frontal stares. Some defy the frame. They look like folk art, or a revival of it, or possibly the beginning of something else. Someone said that it’s only when objects are broken that they find their use, their singularity.
You cannot forget this artwork and these spaces, with the corridors functioning critically like mazes in a game, which makes for a terrific unfolding of surprises. Leslie Wayne’s beautiful oil abstractions on panel occupy an entire room. Wayne talks about “sculpting paint and repairing what is broken.” What is broken? The phrase reminded me of something that John Berger once wrote about poetry: “Poetry can repair no loss, but it defies the space which separates. And it does this by its continual labor of reassembling what has been scattered.” So it goes with this exhibition.