For years bloggers Barry Hoggard of bloggy and James Wagner of jameswagner.com have offered an invaluable, lively glimpse into their experience of the New York gallery scene and art community. This month at the request of Dam, Stuhltrager, they have taken an impressive inaugural turn at curating a group show of emerging (and as yet unrepresented) artists.
The show’s title “Dangling Between The Real Thing And The Sign In The Window” is derived from a 1973 address by the composer Morton Feldman and is reflective of the newly minted curators’ perception of a tension on display in today’s art world between substance and superficiality. The curators’ choices demonstrate that works of conceptual rigor and substance can be personal and lavishly beautiful with no diminishment of integrity.
Hoggard and Wagner acknowledge a collective interest “provoked by work that addresses humor, conceptualism, history, politics and the unexpected, so long as there is an identifiable aesthetic.” Their “organic, serendipitous” curatorial approach yields an uncalculated, unified comment on American character, both during wartime and during this aggressively redefining cultural moment.
Joy Garnett’s Rise, after Bosch (Superdome) offers a potent atmospheric swirl of the sun beam graced colosseum. The scene of gladiators and circuses becomes an icon of the abandonment by our self-proclaimed protectors. Here, painting registers as a rallying act of self-reliance and defiant beauty.
Like Garnett, Nicolas Garait’s assumption of authorship of media-stream imagery transforms distant “news” to on-the-scene reportage. Garait disentangles a double exposed film of found footage shot in Algeria during the 1954-1962 War of Independence and attaches a found soundtrack assembled from archive materials. Despite the decades of remove from their sources, these juxtaposed snippets of rescued scrap feel truer, more pertinently newsworthy than the real time war coverage presented through mainstream channels.
Ina Diane Archer re-imagines the early history of commercial film to include African-Americans as contributors “other than ciphers.” The smile-inducing film trailer for Black Ants in Your Pants of 1926 is an alternate history made manifest before our eyes, posing justice as the unassailable historical record. Archer’s work - and the show overall - reminds us that we are the ones who revise history to include or exclude possible futures.
Peter Corrie presents a wall of off-the-wall, priced-to-move drawings of cacti, clouds, disembodied limbs, politically cryptic phrases and checkered paint. His installation achieves a world of cartoon logic and nightmare visions punctuated by spirit soothing scenes of untrammeled nature.
Jacques Louis Vidal’s drawings and lightbox sculpture, The Holy Art Project, provide a thrill ride for the eye, offering a dizzyingly complex neural net of Americana spectacle, mystical profundity... and roller coasters.
One of the cumulative and unexpected effects of “Dangling” is its curatorial reminder that to look unflinchingly upon the world is to see with a detachment that encompasses joy, humor and sheer beauty even amidst destruction. Arguably, this is most apparent in the focus of three works by Jaishri Abichandani. Her glamorous images of South Asian drag queens - some of whom have sought gender autonomy by acquiring political asylum in the U.S. - remind viewers that the concept of liberty is still an active, if struggling, component of America’s ideal.
It is in this context of human possibility that the viewer encounters Susan C. Dessel’s devastating Our Backyard: A Cautionary Tale. This sculptural installation is an instance where the literal becomes transcendent. No further spoilers provided here. Just go.
With surreptitious power, the works in this show take an unflinching and earnest look at the current moment. There is a strange joy evident in embracing the complexities that garnish simple truth. It is revealed by each work contributed to and - in the site specific case of Dessel’s installation - created for this group show. At Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery - until Nov. 13th - these gems of candor and unabashed beauty radiate that so-often-hoped-for culminating synergy: As with Democracy, the sum eclipses even its most spectacular parts.