Perambulating the Bounds

Monday, September 26, 2005

Explosions (More From DC)

It’s getting to be a while since my visit to the DC galleries, but there is more stuff to write about. Tonight I want to mention a show at 1515 14th St. at G Fine Art, down the hall from Jiha Moon’s show (http://gfineartdc.com/ has a page on the show). The show was titled “Blasts” and consisted of paintings and drawings that dealt with things blowing up. According to Annie Gawlak, the show jumped off from a large work by Maggie Michael. She was another artist in the Trawick Prize show in Bethesda. Her pieces there were tangles of lines and color in ink and paint that formed a cluster and then seemed to spit tendrils out. Within the forms are more precisely drawn forms of breasts and testes. Some of the color lines were applied like spray paint, giving the pieces the quickly made feel of graffiti. The three pieces in Bethesda were in a series called “Worse for the Better,” and as I recall from her statement they were a response to “global events.” A very abstract response, but also really unabstract and emotional.

The pieces in Bethesda were maybe 36” by 24”. The show at G Fine Art included a piece of hers that took the scale way up, to 107” by 263”. It was still on paper, and used the same materials, ink, enamel, pencil, and charcoal, but at this scale she pours out nearly whole bottles of ink, and the centrifugal force of the lines emanating from the central tangle tears across the wall with apocalyptic energy (http://gfineartdc.com/show_sept05/show_sept05_8.jpg). It reminded me of Julie Mehretu in shape, scale, and energy, and in the building up of large gestures from small, sometimes finely rendered details.

Among the other works there were pictures of buildings being imploded, and a bridge exploding. I particularly liked a painting by Joy Garnett, “Jog” that showed a man wearing a face mask jogging across some flat industrial wasteland, three plumes of flame rising behind him (http://gfineartdc.com/show_sept05/show_sept05_7.jpg). Apparently the artist often bases her paintings on news reports of disasters. What interested me in this painting was the setting in this industrial sacrifice zone. It’s an environment that occupies a fair amount of US territory, especially in places like coastal Texas or chemical alley in Louisiana, but doesn’t make it into paintings. There are some landscapes by Rackstraw Downes at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston that portray highways and industrial structures that look like the kind of thing you would see in some place like LaPorte, Texas.

Rosemarie Fiore has a couple of drawings that use exploded fireworks (http://gfineartdc.com/show_sept05/show_sept05_6.jpg). This is one of those techniques that is so associated with a single individual, Cai Guo-Qiang, that it makes for a strange experience seeing someone else use it. Getting anywhere near the technique seems derivative. It reminds me of seeing Nashvillian Cherry Smith-Bell’s silhouette cutouts – Kara Walker seemed to overshadow the work, although Smith-Bell was doing something different from Walker, and Fiore’s abstractions are plenty different from Cai’s projects.

If Maggie Michael’s big piece was the jumping off point for the curator, of course that partly lay in the purely physical terms of the work’s audacious presence. I think her emotional-political motives are a core also, expressing a sense of something apocalyptic in the air. I’m confident the apocalyptic is not in this case an attachment to the Biblical Second Coming, and while I would expect the backdrop of past and potential terrorist attacks to be part of the idea, I think work like this goes to a kind of internal, spiritual apocalypse brought on by the shock of the interaction of private senses of desire and the work, and elements in politics and society that seem effectively aligned to mow down beauty and pleasure. The world seems controlled by people who would be just as glad to knock it down. George Bush and his associates did not create global warning – no, we’ve been working on that a long time. But they seem to favor it, and any other trend that intuitively seems unhealthy and unwise. One reaction is a sort of full-persona scream, and it comes out in paint and ink tangling into bunches that take on the appearance of disemboweled organs and then thrust out across wide expanses of space.

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