Sunday, April 4, 2010

Ceramic Babylon

With the NCECA Conference in town, all of the galleries turned the spotlight to their ceramic superstars for First Friday (more about this phenomenon in my next post). I concentrated my expedition around Washington Square, Old City, and Northern Liberties/Fishtown. If asked whether any thematic thread permeated much of the work I saw, carnality comes first to mind.

Bridgette Mayer Gallery was host to Steve Tobin, whose work had a decidedly aquatic tinge. From his wall of Single Bang Pots, one could buy individual pieces. I liked the way all of the pots worked as a singular installation, but I was not sure about taking them out of this context. Some of the pots were gorgeous, resembling delicate sea urchin or murex shells, but others were particularly generic and weak as standalone pieces. In Tobin’s Exploded Earth Series, crater-like vessels held pools of vividly colored glass, akin to petite geyser basins.

Steve Tobin - Single Bang Pots

Steve Tobin - Single Bang Pots

Steve Tobin - Exploded Earth Series

Locks Gallery devoted their entire second floor gallery to Betty Woodman. I have to be honest—I feel a pinch of guilt in admitting this—her work looks and feels anachronistic, frozen in time as though it just touched down from 1980 or so. I am not a huge fan of P&D (Pattern and Decoration), mostly because I do not consider that the works have aged very well. It was a movement and an aesthetic that served its purpose in the history of 20th Century art, mostly as an exercise in validation for the decorative arts, but one that was more of a means than an end. We all know that in art, process is paramount, but the product should stand on its own merits too. Regardless of my opinion, Woodman is a hero of the medium, whose esteem and reputation are a settled matter, and I respect her achievements.

Betty Woodman installation view

Locks also presented some lovely Kathy Butterly and Jill Bonovitz vessels on the third floor.

Kathy Butterly piece at Locks Gallery

At 22 Gallery in Old City (is this a new space or a pop-up gallery?) there was a small mash-up of artwork in varied media by the Cohoquinoque Crew. I loved this gem by Jo Watko. It may be difficult to tell from the photo, but it is a lectern infested and ostensibly being torn to shreds by locusts.

Jo Watko - A Genuine Orator's Podium, 2010

Snyderman-Works Gallery was mobbed, and something of a misfire in its offerings. Visitors are first greeted by Alex Irvine’s Ugly Jugs (his title, not mine), an array of excessively vulgar attention-grabbers that have been installed in the storefront windows. My problem with these pieces is that they feel too much like movie props or waxwork busts.

Alex Irvine - Ugly Jugs

Snyderman-Works Gallery

I had no idea that CerealArt was shuttering its brick-and-mortar gallery to focus on its online sales.

Wexler Gallery held my favorite exhibition of the evening, Hermaphrodites: Living In Two Worlds curated by Leslie Ferrin. The works chosen are either literally or conceptually about hermaphroditism, which is to say, they may feature actual intersex protagonists, or they may be hybrids which play with notions of fine art versus decorative art, simultaneously embodying both. I guarantee that you will not be able to shake Tip Toland’s Tender Flood from your mind for its unsettling lifelike quality, as well as the diminutive erection he/she unabashedly sports; it struck me as perhaps an aging spin on the ancient Greek mythological figure Hermaphroditus (the antecedent of our modern terminology), whose youth and beauty have since fallen.

Tip Toland - Tender Flood, 2010

Chris Antemann - Wardrobe, 2009

Cynthia Consentino - Undivided, 2010

Kelly Garrett Rathbone - Crocuta Crocuta Marionetta, 2010

Dana Major Kanovitz - Infiltrator, 2009

Dirk Staschke - Premonition, 2008

At Projects Gallery the exhibition title To Die For should give some idea as to the curatorial vision. Do not miss the basement level gallery, which contains Todd Leech’s Drowning. The air is dank, most likely owing to the moisture involved in the work, which adds to the overall milieu of decay. IV drips flow into a tray placed on a hospital gurney, gradually eating away at the unfired clay figurines. I also enjoyed Kathy Ruttenberg’s Grounded, which gave me drowned-Ophelia vibes.

Todd Leech - Drowning

Kathy Ruttenberg - Grounded

David Furman - The Death of Dessert and the Birth of McDonald's

Richard Cleaver - Cult of the Tzar III

I ended my trek at Bambi Gallery, where Paul Swenbeck and Nick Lenker presented the collaborative effort Man, Myth and Magic. The two oil lamp sculptures are noteworthy highlights. When lit, the flickering flames bolster the dream state ethereality that the selection of works seems to probe.

Paul Swenbeck & Nick Lenker - Sacrifice

Paul Swenbeck & Nick Lenker - Lucifer

Paul Swenbeck & Nick Lenker - Familiars

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