During a recent visit to Brooklyn and Queens, I went to two galleries where I will be showing in 2008 and found intriguing shows. The first location was Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs, a pristine space with a world-class program that features four guest-curated shows per year. At this time, curator Joshua Altman, who is also the current director at Stux Gallery in Chelsea, offers his take on artists who create animations that, for the most part, ignore any standard animation techniques. The show is titled Extremes & In-Betweens, which refers to how the outermost positions of a character's body movements set the mark for the changing movements in-between, a concern or approach that rarely, if ever, enters into the minds of the artists assembled here.
In the smallish entrance hall of the gallery, a monitor shows finely drawn talking heads speaking directly at the viewer. I suspect the artist, Susi Jirkuff, is concerned with creating a subtle confrontation as she addresses stereotyping and commercial media, an effect made more profound with the discomfort felt in such tight quarters. Upon entering the gallery, one sees the drawings by Jirkuff that were used to make the previous animation, hanging next to the animation cells of Cecily Brown. This is Brown's sole animation piece that she created in 1995, where she explores sexual gratification head on. The song that plays during the animation, a cha-cha type composition, gave the whole thing a strange matter-of-factness that was comically erotic and magnetic.
The next work, an oil on canvas, served as one of the backgrounds in Ezra Johnson's What Visions Burn (2006). It is an animation that tells the tale of a suspicious couple who end up stealing art from a well-endowed museum. This, perhaps, is the closest work to a continuous story, while the heaviness of the frame breaks and the stiffness of the movements keep it fresh. I particularly like the style of this work, which reminded me a little bit, in certain sequences, of the early days of Expressionism.
The obsessive yet primitive renderings of Naoyuki Tsuji follow on an adjacent wall. The technique the artist uses -- reusing one drawing for numerous cells by erasing the previous and redrawing a character in a slightly different pose over and over again -- is very effective. And these works, when compiled on film, create the Surreal and sinister memories of a difficult childhood in the film Children of Shadows (2006).
The most powerful piece in the show is Federico Solmi's offering of stills for the animation The Evil Empire (2007). Here the emotions run high, and at a fevered pitch, as an omnipotent, sex-charged pope ravages some future yet backward-looking civilization. The art, which employs bold colors and exaggerated perspectives with layers and layers of application and elimination of media, is mesmerizing.
Robert Breer did an abstract painting in 1954, and at that time, was told that it lacked movement. So he created an animation of the work to show its esthetic construction in motion, which showed tremendous resourcefulness and strength of conviction.
The wildest work is by Martha Colburn. Her stills (above), and the resulting animation Spiders in Love: An Arachnogasmic Musical (2006), are a collage of thoughts, images, and emotions that will make viewers' heads spin. It's a sort of hyper version of the animations of Terry Gilliam, but without the Rube Goldberg connectivity.
The most amazing gesture here, however, is the glass stills of Brent Green. He actually paints directly on old, dirty, found glass to make his magic -- images that are bizarre and Tim Burton-like. The last artist is David Shrigley, an imagination that yields a quirky, silly, naive-ish style that is quite humorous, in a dark sort of way.
Next, I went over to Galeria Janet Kurnatowski. There, I found Kurnatowski putting the final touches on a substantive installation with artist Katsuhisa Sakai, just in from California for his one-person show Wood and Stone. This exhibition features eight freestanding sculptures that reveal a reverence for basic forms in the environment, both made and natural, plus one color print of a 14-foot-tall piece installed in a desert setting.
And as in the works of artist Tom Gottsleben, there is an element of movement suggested in each sculpture that shapes the work. A good example of this is "Bounce Balance" (2007), which is comprised of eucalyptus and Chinese elm wood held together with hidden stainless steel rods. At first glance, it looks rather chaotic in gesture, yet there is a rhythm to the forms that subtly repeat and cascade as if they are being blown by a strong wind.
"3X3X3" (2007) and "Sukimanotsunagari" (2007, left) reminded me of certain type of cactus, or how fallen or water-driven rocks sometimes end up in precariously balanced formations. For these two works, the artist shapes (again assembling with hidden steel rods) basalt, a black stone that gives the work a weightiness that is counterbalanced by the somewhat lyrical arrangement of the semi-circular shapes.
"Teiritsu #2" (2006), Teiritsu #3" (2007), and "Agura #2" (2007), whether they are made from wood or basalt, reference the architecture of grand buildings such as a copula dome, or grand entranceway, revealing another side of the artist's muse.
All of Sakai's work, which is composed with an eye for the essential, is meditative in its lasting appeal, while the animations and stills at Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs will haunt your subconscious for quite some time. - D. Dominick Lombardi
Dorsky Gallery Curatorial Programs 11-03 45th Ave., Long Island City, NY 718-937-6317
Galeria Janet Kurnatowski 205 Norman Ave Brooklyn NY 11222 718-383-9380 Mr. Lombardi is an artist with representation in Kasia Kay Art Projects and in Chicago, Van Brunt Gallery in Beacon, NY, and ADA gallery in Richmond, VA; a writer with Sculpture, Sculpture Review, DART, and NYARTS; and an independent curator.