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The October Art Crawl
By Keane A. Pepper

Josť Lerma

Man, let's just get this out of the way. What a lame start to the season, sorry everyone, not a whole lot shakin'. I just can't get excited about this first round of openings, so I've decided to take my cue from the silliness going on at Riviera Gallery. You know something is wrong when four paintings by teams of two artists all look like Barry McGee was on every team. I desperately want to be cool too, but I'm not gonna paint in pastel colors and draw things as outlines. No more sad sack anything. Anyway, Riviera pit a bunch of Philly kids versus New York kids and the results were only striking in their similarity. The same thing could be said of the new shows. There's just this kind of bland, democratic neutrality to all of them. So, I've decided to toss the Greenberg this month and pit the shows against one another to manufacture something like interest.

The first round features a match up of robotic and mechanical installations. Mark Esper, a local favorite in black, clocks in with two shows, new sculptures at Dam Stuhltrager and a work in Zap! Electric Narratives at Greenhouse Projects. Ben Parry, a new comer from England has two separate installations at the commercial heavyweight Black and White Gallery. Esper's large mechanical sculpture crammed into tiny Dam Stuhltrager lands a head shot. This strange machine looks like something out of the original Star Trek series, with extremely non-functional looking lights and boxes, except everything actually makes the contraption work. Based on Esper's love of crazy electromagnetic principles nails with little faces swing around magnetic switches that open and close based on proximity. When the circuit is closed, sound erupts from one of a myriad of homemade speakers. There isn't really any aesthetic decisions being made other than realizing the idea, and that complexity is enough to generate a unique style. Beyond that, little homemade robots putter around drawing and erasing on an endless loop. I was taken by Esper's complete fascination with the materials, one that pretty much seems to blind him to giving two shits about polish. He's got some hokey drawings of the excellent interactive light sculpture at Greenhouse Projects. He's not afraid to show some really bad drawings, which somehow I admire. Over at the converted garage (it's dangerously close to White Castle, beware!) that is Greenhouse Projects, Esper has made a pretty neat installation that casts your shadow in light. Basically, I think you interrupt infrared light and complete a circuit turning on a little lights in your silhouette. It's like Esper isn't a sculptor so much as mad scientist that also makes art. That kind of unselfconsciousness is priceless in the repetitive, self-reflexive art world. There are two other artists in the garage. One guy show's tiny little back-lit drawings about a dreamy narrative, and the other had a glowing cross.

Ben Parry, a London based artist, created a mechanical installation to obliquely critique Western hegemony. Well, that's what he says he's doing, but mannequins with video heads and whirling doll-arms? Nah, it's kind of silly, but the second installation in the back is far more elegant with its slow, spinning signs and sculptures of violence, destruction, decay, and a bit of hope all tenuously linked together by yellow rope. While the spinning black umbrella with a little white dove borders on embarrassing sentimentality and the gas-masked globe is trite; the references to surrealism and films like Luc Besson's The Last Battle save it from being terrible. His semiotic play between language and icon works better than warbling televisions and his stylistic appropriation of post-apocalyptic film culture works. Parry's monotypes and paintings are far too serious and mannered to elicit the same kind of empathetic response I had with Esper's geeky drawings. Parry's sense of humor flies right out of the ring. His light boxes are better ways to impart an absurdly authoritative voice into the silliness of the installation.

Mark Esper wins by unanimous decision, since Parry's mechanical sculptures don't really do much of anything, when they look like they could be a lot more interactive and engaging. (Mark Esper through October 10th at Dam Stuhltrager. Ben Parry, New World Disorder through October 20th)

There's not much fun in pitting very evenly matched shows together, so I'll mix it up. Momenta Art was supposed to open with Tana Hargest. Well, apparently she fucked up and the show still hadn't opened when I last checked. It's a real shame, since her work in a group show there had the kind of cynical humor I dig. Mark Swanson's alienated white boy politics in Live Free or Die would've been a good sparring partner for Hargest's delayed New Negrotopia. Swanson's whacky, good-bad aesthetic pays off in his sprawling installation as he explores his considerably mixed emotions about his home culture, New Hampshire's shoot-first, eat-it later mentality. Ah, what a fine state, no sales tax or gun control. Don't they elect arch-conservatives? Swanson opens with a black deer tableux and a black and white image of the title character in Carrie. Obviously, Swanson has some issues with high school. Well, it brightens up, with stripped logs and a rainbow target, before getting dark and creepy again in the back.

A plaster body with comic writing hangs face down from the ceiling, while a black robed mannequin bust sits off to the side. Drawings on what appears to be animal hide and a cape made of dirty whites add to the black comedy. Before it goes over the top goth, twin sequenced, glam deer heads get the party going again. The show is a dissonant, yet gleeful mess that it is part haunted house and part strangely affecting meditation on the artist's conflicted identity.

Swanson wins on a technicality, though it's a shame these artists work couldn't go head to head. Live Free or Die is up through October 6th at Bellwether so git on down there, boy!

In a feather weight battle of traditional no-frills documentary photography versus ink-jet prints, 31 Grand offers Melissa Cortez's straightforward pictures of several latinos while Jack the Pelican backs Laura Emrick's plexi-glass montages of space. Cortez's photographs are nice. So nice that they couldn't possibly offend anybody let alone stand up in a creative battle. Technically sharp, Cortez's prints of a resolute cheerleader, sullen young men, and an old man to name a few lack any other strengths.

One of Laura Emrick's prints proclaims "We don't know what the rest of our brain is for". Well, apparently neither artist here has provided any demonstrable proof, considering Emrick's cheesy montages that contrast beautiful, possibly Hubble-generated images of space with sci-fi proclamations all divided up by day-glo Mondrian lines of plexiglass. (I use what's left of my brain to make fun of silly shit like this) Emrick's thoughts on the future of mankind waffle between optimistic, something like We'll change our bodies to adapt, and pessimistic Civilizations may not overlap in space time. Whatever, but the works are too sincere and not sufficiently ironic (gasp) to make day-glo plexi work. Better, but not much, are her monochrome plastic sculptures using what looks like 99¢ store kitsch. They kinda like genuine little expressions of an alien species, amazing.

Emerick's hybrid photo-montages win by decision through her display of creative combinations over Cortez's way boring documentary photography. Still this was like a warm up for a main event, so no one get excited.

Let's pit an up and comer that doesn't change its program much versus the undisputed heavy weight champ of Willyworld that doesn't change it's program much either. Space 101 with its 'Check me out! I'm so weird. I'm so hip!' group shows versus Pierogi's 'We only show two obsessive/compulsive people, mostly' program.

With a title (and sub-title) like Druid: Wood as Superconductor, I expected another whacky, emerging artist show at Space 101, and I wasn't disappointed. What bothered me was the déjà vu. 'Fuck, this shit again?' Anyway, there's a cart with dirt in the back. I had some good pizza after I saw this show and I can't really remember anything right before it, isn't that strange? Well, I remember that there were wood shelves, a painting of wooden emblem, wooden book cases, a big, droopy wooden cross, a Paul McCarthy cloned video of a wooden contraption, a relief of the woods, plus the cart full of dirt. That pizza was really good…where was I? Oh, Space 101 can't be bothered to list the names of the artists or titles of works except on the one or two lists scattered around the gallery, and I was so annoyed this time I just left. I apologize to one or two people who's work I like, but tell that dude to put up some titles and names for those of us just browsing. Or maybe there could be a few artists who actually explore these whacky curatorial premises.

Pierogi in the other corner had paintings by Steven Charles that were really, really obsessively painted. I mean caked on lines upon lines and dots upon dots that get topographic, even on the really big ones. I hoped the artist enjoyed more than I did. In the second space, Lisa Stefanelli had some big, graphic flame-like abstractions on pretty surfaces. Think big, cool tattoos on flesh in the smaller works, and big, cool flames on the side of a hot rod in the larger paintings. Not bad at all if you like tattoo art.

Who wins? This is kind of like having been at the Tyson-Spinks fight, where really only the audience loses in the end. We just award it to Pierogi for the hell of it. Bah, everyone always goes to Pierogi, no dates needed.

What's better, big sculpture or little sculpture? *sixty-seven has an excellent show with Chris Caccamise's little missives plus a wall of drawings. Heidi Cody has some big corporate logos at Roebling Hall scaled to each companies profits. Caccamise's sculptures are abundant and playful musings about the world around him from the natural to the man made. The objects display a child like sense of wonder and are very cute, simplified cartoon shapes crafted with a slick, yet evident hand. Most of the objects have simple color schemes reflecting the subject, as if the real thing had been vectored in Flash. Happily for the artist, someone dropped by and snapped up most of the good ones, which was actually quite a lot. In addition to the sculptures, there is a wall full of drawings that expand Caccamise's vision beyond cartoon toys. I found his hand made license quite funny.

If Caccamise's work titled toward the vapid side given the nature of his subject matter, then Cody's large sculptures immediately lean towards the socio-political given the topicality of her work. I know no one really wants their work to be called "topical", but we are guarding oil wells in Iraq, and Cody's sculptures are cropped sections of the world's largest oil companies from ExxonMobil to Bristish Petroleum. It just can't be helped, which isn't a bad thing. Cody doesn't assault the viewer with walls of text implicating the oil industry with shady political decisions around the globe or environmental disasters like that boring bastard Hans Haacke. Instead, she allows the forms to waffle between rigid formalism and implicit critique. Unfortunately, their collision doesn't create any real edge.

While Cody's work is conceptually and formally tight, I guess you'd call it very professional, I preferred Caccamise's goofball sculptures with their conscious naiveté, that's less ironic than escapist. Caccamise's "Secret Tornado and the Power of the Beast" is up through October 6th and Cody comes down on the 13th, the sore loser.

Oh, I would have loved to see what Studio Fachetti and Lunar Base could've pitted against one another, but the former was closed for renovations (of their program I hope) and Lunar Base was showing their in-house abstract expressionist artist again. Wait, a minute, do you think they change artists?! They couldn't be, could they? How could each artist make the same paintings? God, someone tell these artists the date. This gallery needs to add some combinations. Maybe they could show, lets see, a minimalist show, or Op-Art? That would bring them twenty years closer to the present.

In the battle of small galleries its Rome Arts versus Galerie Galou! I don't even want to go into either of these shows, but I'll try to do it quickly and painlessly. At Rome Arts, Lee Quinones pulls one of my personal favorites in Space and Time. Make an object, then make paintings of the thing. Well, this sci-fi sculpture and painting combo made me long for a teleportation device. The only space this should be hung in is a hotel, and you wouldn't want to spend much time with it either. Galerie Galou, the cramped little space around the corner from 31 Grand, was housing an eclectic group show by a German collective. When I say eclectic, I'm talking Punky Brewster, not mixing Prada with a thrift store bag. Salon style would be the nice way to put it, but the only things this show had going for it were a few big pencil drawings of things you might leave on your coffee table with a few dashes of color. Everything else was imminently forgettable, so don't sublet your studios in Berlin just yet.

Rome Arts takes this one by a TKO. There was basically less of the bad. Like watching two awful boxers hug and try to hit each other below the belt. Don't worry the winner is open until the 5th, and the loser will have left the building before this hits.

Conceptually charged photography and sculpture go head to head at Schroeder Romero and Fishtank! This one is actually pretty interesting, both feature work centered around dark, domestic secrets, except that one has polish and the other rusbbish. Mirrors by Peter Scott at Schroeder Romero features photographs of Scotts' carefully constructed murder mirrors in tranquil, domestic spaces. These Hitchcock like moments look like they might be Photoshop specials, the images of murder digitally added, but apparently that's not the case, as the sculptures attest. Across from the photos are semi-transparent mirrors that reflect (reveal) moments of murder from 'true crime' magazines. The contrast between the idyllic surface and the terrible interior make the mirrors function as metaphors for public/private domestic life. My only issue with the show is that the photographs might not work so well on their own, without the sculptures there to authentic their process plus they seem to exist as easily collectable versions of the more interesting objects.

Over at Fishtank, John Freyer has some photographs of bottles in paper bags, which are really at the gallery up on the fake stairwell in the front. The fact that the press release goes on and on about how this dude got famous selling his life on e-bay fails to mention that doesn't make this show any good. Freyer's competent photographs of rubbish don't function as a metaphor of alcoholism as dirty family secret. I get sick when press releases become part of the narrative of a work, 'cause this photo/found object installation lacks that narrative layer anywhere in the piece. Apparently there was someone else showing in the space, but I just thought it was some of Freyer's life for sale. Opps.

Scott scores a knockout over Freyer who needs a little conceptual development and less talk about his one-hit wonder. Mirrors gloats through October 13th and Souvernirs skulks out on the 5th.

Who's better at drawing, artists or novelists? Well, these creative types square off at Parker's Box and Plus Ultra in this light weight bout. Summer residents Geraldine Pastor Lloret and Tere Recarens represent the artists doing drawings at Parker's Box, while Dave Eggers, Susan Minot, Will Self, and Jonathan Ames put up for the Novelists. Well, you'd think this would be an easy victory for the artists but Will Self holds his own in the land of subversive comics against Recarens' comical and allegorical series "Monkey and Panther". Recarens fills half the gallery with the humorous and very human antics of the cute characters. It has a punk spirit that is much broader than Will Self's absurd one-liners, but don't hit quite as hard. Recaren lands more punches, but Self's deeply cynical voice is happily present in his cartoons. Neither of these are about making 'good' drawings, just conveying disjointed, crazy narratives and some pathos.

Lloret, does a big, kinda abstract wall drawing at Parker's box and it looks kinda nice, but I couldn't really get into it. I mean it kicks the hell out of Dave Egger's supremely slackerish painting of a visit to the dentist. Dave, It heartens me to read you quite painting seriously years ago. It's also conceptually light years ahead of Minot's hobbyist watercolors, which are pleasant and about as filling as a marshmallow. Jonathan Ames fares better with his doodles done while chatting with this therapist. Nothing ground breaking here, just the compulsive sketches of a funny assed writer.

Parker's Box wins this round, largely because Dave Eggers practically sinks Plus Ultra all by himself. Finger Flip (right? So punk.) is up on both feet at Parker's Box and Art + Literature sports a shiner, both, through October 13th .

Alright, I'm getting sick of writing this goddamned thing. What's better, wishy-washy abstraction or watercolors? Heavy Spaces at 65 Hope street pits Lucas Monaco and Mark Masyga's studious abstraction versus Chris Doyle's really big watercolor paintings in "Do you like Pain Pleasures?". Mark Masyga's petite abstractions bear little resemblance to anything remotely heavy. At best, they are pretty, detail oriented color studies of shapes in space. That's that for him, while Monaco's obsessive drawings of shapes actually oscillate between abstract patterns and large, expansive cityscapes. I've enjoyed his drawings in the past, and Masyga seems like a smart pairing, but his canvases lack delicacy and conceptual depth.

That's exactly what Mark Doyle was aiming for by doing big watercolor's from video stills, which I'm guessing he projected onto the paper. I don't think its an inherently wrong technique, but when a drawing of a monkey and a panther fucking is more interesting than a six foot painting, its not just about technique anymore. While these big coloring books are visually very pretty its like the solid wood furniture at IKEA, nice wood but its still IKEA. Basically, these things are kinda soulless and redundant. If the video equipment that peppers Doyle's paintings are supposed to be a self-reflexive device to signal a post-modern stance its completely unnecessary. When it gets down to it, these really seem in it for the money, like Tyson or something. Ack, go back to public art.

65 Hope street wins by unanimous decision. Heavy spaces gloats over the bloated corpse of watercolor painting (Someone write in and explain why watercolors are so popular? Was it the rich models partying? The suburban youth snapshots? What? Just stop! No more copying photographs in paint and selling them for absurd prices. Collectors stop this awful habit) through October 20th while Doyle rolls out of the ring on the 13th.

Alright, so I think watercolor is being abused, that won't stop me from pitting two painters again. Laurie Thomas at Priska versus Jose Lerma at South First. Thomas wins! Why you ask? She knows the value of a circle, and employs them liberally, although I won't hold it against her that she claims inspiration from Chandeliers at Grand Central. She doesn't need to fake a reason to paint circles. Well, I'm aware that my fetish shouldn't be the deciding factor, but Jose Lerma might as well have knocked his own teeth out. I'll split with all the other dumb ass critics who like these sophomoric jack-off paintings because Lerma loads his brush with pastel hues when he paints his goofball character. Great, the guy goes to Skowhegan and comes back with a show called "Two Beats Off". Good title dude.

Thomas is up through through the 20th and Lerma makes fun of painting as a really, really, no really, masturbatory activity through the 31st, pity.

Lastly, to wrap this travesty up, I stopped by Front Room Gallery and was treated to an odd show of photography and video by a husband/wife collaboration. The works range from photographic explorations of presidential grave sites to a video of people hanging around in trees in the woods. In between is a video of strangers asked to tell jokes shortly after 9/11 and a video of planes flying pell-mell around a horizon-less sky. The works by Amanda Elic and Ethan Crenson seemed mature and displayed a range of expressions from deadpan humor to elegiac poeticism. I'd pit this against Dirty Old Toy Box at Fluxcore for a laugh, but I really only peered through the window. Still the work that I could see including some large black and white wall drawings were a vast, vast improvement over the last show I saw there.

"Collaborations" runs at front Room through October 12th.

Mmmmm, oh yeah, there's some funky, Japanese inspired tabluex at Sideshow. Actually, it would have looked great at Space 101 two or three shows ago. I kinda liked this alternately slick and clunky installation. It seems like a vision of the world gone wrong in some subtle way. Don't quite get it or care though.

"Exerbia" by the todt art collective is up through October 27th.

Unfortunately, I feel like the lack lust opening to the season put me into a funk, and I'm hoping desperately that something will really set the tone, instead of emerging from the dullness. Now, I'm going to get a beer and wait for the hate mail to start rolling in.

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[email protected] | October 2003 | Issue 43
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