'Together at last' 

@Red Gallery through Aug. 26

I wonder if my problem with Red Gallery is a Feng Shui matter. Though it very often has painting shows, I don’t believe it’s a space well-suited to hanging two-dimensional work. The large panels hung in front of the plate glass windows just add more hanging space without necessarily welcoming the passer-by.

But it is a space well-suited for installations. If you removed the panels, with its high ceilings and the performative nature of its openness to the street, it summons up all kinds of possibilities.

Added to this, there are many questions surrounding what appears to be an arbitrary curatorial practice in these group shows: the decision as to the works included is always mystifying and “Together at Last” is no exception.

We begin with questions about the title. Is this a selection of works by friends coming together after longstanding absence? That might explain why there is no other connection between the works and no discernable curatorial theme.

Otherwise why include in one show: Amy Hahn’s paintings of Venice at night; Avantika Bawa’s minimalist constructivist works; Craig Drennan’s mix of the conceptual with gestural abstraction incorporating text references to the 1984 movie, “Supergirl”; Denise Falk’s fairytale painting, “Surrender” in which a little girl is unaccountably running away from a blue bird; Liz Sargent’s felt and wool floor piece, “Floe” resembling a land survey map; Ed Barbier’s undulating welded steel grid; Yana Dimitrova’s realist lithographs; Cynthia White’s mixed media gestural linear works on paper; Sophie Jacobson’s C-prints of herself in narrative fantasies; Michael Cheney’s single channel video /sound installation, “Forrest Project 2002”; Tim Wirth’s humorous abstract works on paper; and Julio Garcia’s mixed media “The Long Way Home, No. 3”.

My other cavil relates to the question of putting the price on the title and artist identification labels next to the works. This is not the usual gallery practice and focuses the viewer’s attention on awkward questions.

Why $35,000? Why $15?

In this context, Jennifer Jenkins work, the subject matter of which is the relationship between objects, becomes a witty comment on the show as a whole. She has created a triangular space in a corner of the gallery, in which she uses two walls and the floor space in between.

On each of three pedestals, she has arranged three groupings of figures. These figures are upright, hooded shapes, made of silk with machine embroidery and are a few inches tall.

In “With Respect to Each Other, No. 1”, sixteen tall figures are facing the back of a small, lone figure separated by a distance. In “No. 2”, three figures are observing a couple who are in some way colluding with each other. In “No. 3”, one figure is looking at a couple who is returning the look.

Through the artist’s placing of these simple figures, the viewer might be able to construct any number of social narratives, in fact, perhaps all of the possible narratives of the human condition. Then, running along the two walls at eye level are ninety-eight tiny machine stitched, irregular silk rectangles, attached to 2 ½ “ square paper backings, each one pinned with one sewing pin to the wall. These miniature abstractions (“Repeating Objects in a Self-Similar Way”) are further worked on with silk screen and India ink. This entire corner shows a concern to create an installation, an admirable use of the gallery space.

Caomin Xie is represented by a large oil on canvas, “Still Image, 127”, fifteen horizontal rows of 24 repetitions in each row of what looks like a seated Buddha. I reviewed a solo show of Caomin Xie’s work in 2003, titled, “Still Image.” In that show, the images were very photographic and created to simulate the horizontal lines of the television screen.

In this work, the lines have become looser, more painterly, like weaving, the result seeming more like a repeated pattern on a tapestry, the weft replacing the horizontal lines on a screen. I thought at first that the number “127” might refer to the number of repetitions. But I counted them, and it didn’t add up. But since he is obviously continuing a series of investigations of the still image, perhaps 127 refers to the number of the series so far.

The work is labor-intensive and meditative. As the hand draws the lines (the weft) across the canvas, the color is changed to form the image of the Buddha. As video creates its images in high speed horizontal lines, Xie’s process uses hand-made time, forming his works over a period of hours instead of fractions of seconds.

Eun Sook Lee exhibits six diminutive shadow boxes, each five or six inches square, titled “Closets and Cupboards”. Inside each shadow box is a tiny, doll’s house size wardrobe or chest, brightly painted and with its drawers or shelves bursting open with absurd quantities of one object only: one chest has orange pumpkins; one is filled with gilt framed mirrors; another chest overflows with diamond tiaras; two bedside tables are whimsically stuffed with pieces of bleached vertebrae; silver shoes in various styles line the shelves of one cupboard; while red apples tumble from another.

We are in a surrealist world of absurdity here, of scale, and of the number of inappropriate objects in their gaily painted cabinets. Seduction is clearly intended.

Another explanation for the title of this show now occurs to me: it might be simply ironic. Some artists may have exhibited together often, perhaps some never; the works have nothing in common with one another, nor do they share a thematic space.

But here, for this period, they really are together at least, if not at last.

Red Gallery is at 201 E. Broughton St.

Bertha Husband graduated from the Ruskin School of Fine Art at Oxford University and has an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

She has been writring art criticism for over 20 years in publications that include Chicago Reader, Art Papers, Third Text and Left Curve.


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Bertha Husband

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