By Mark Jenkins
Sunday, November 10, 2013
The title of Spain Arts & Culture’s latest photographic survey is “Vaiven,” Spanish for “swing” or “oscillation.” That refers to motion between the United States, where most of the images were made, and Spain, where the photographers are rooted. The exhibition, at the former residence of the ambassadors of Spain, shows New York and Chicago, not Madrid and Barcelona.
Two of the six participants grew up in North America. Madrid--born Marylander Ana Hayes--Prez encapsulates her transatlantic life with small, deadpan photos of the stuff ---- food, toys, souvenirs ---- her family carried across the ocean. Montreal--born Xavier Nuez lives in Chicago and scouts American cities for solitude and decrepitude. He’s drawn to places that are dark and empty yet colorful, like a Miami stadium abandoned to graffiti after it was damaged by Hurricane Andrew.
Carla Tramullas and Monica Lek came to the United States as adults, settling in New York. Lek’s sunny candids depict a polyglot metropolis of Hasidic Jews and Chinatown restaurants, cotton candy and a subway rider who wears a clown nose. Tramullas’s work is more abstract and more personal, so that close--ups and panoramas feel equally intimate.
Javier Corso and Ral Urbina still live in Spain, which is not the only way they’re different from the others. Corso used the U.S. Army as an implicit model, but his pictures are of Spanish troops, in compositions and situations both formal and informal. He shows soldiers on maneuvers but also one lying on her bunk, above a lineup of decidedly military shoes. Shot in Chicago, Urbina’s photos are the only ones in black and white. The Madrid lensman likes shadows, angles and recurring parallel lines, whether railroad tracks or slats of a window blind. In a contemporary city, Urbina finds vignettes that evoke the U.S.A. that Hollywood showed the world in the pre--Technicolor age.
Various revolutions link the work in Furthermore’s two--man show, “Peace. Love. Insurgency.” A former Washingtonian who now lives in Berlin, Scott Holmquist crafts handmade books that document the marijuana--cultivation culture of Humboldt County, Calif. He plans to do so well into the future, symbolically if not actually. The sixth in his series of “Chronic Freedom” volumes is a sound book “compiled in the 26th century.”
Political yet whimsical, Holmquist has designed an exhibition for an imagined “Hippies & Weed Center for Insurgency.” Its floor plan is on display beneath a banner that frames a clenched fist with marijuana buds. Since arriving in Germany, Holmquist has become involved with a museum that recounts the history of Kreuzberg, a neighborhood known for leftists and squatters. The artist has devised a fictional show for that museum as well. But it can’t be mounted anytime soon, since one section covers the years 2100--2200.
Also on display are several pocket copies of a German law that protects the right to rebellion. They’re worn and tattered, as if they’ve been consulted often. But the fingers that damaged the pamphlets can’t exist yet, since the law ---- another Holmquist invention ---- won’t be enacted until 2090.
In a black--and--white video piece, people read Holmquist’s 26th--century sound book in front of scenes from the American Revolution. Kenseth Armstead, too, has fashioned a version of that war. His graphic novel, “Spook,” recounts the exploits of an African American spy. In other pieces, roughly painted on wood, the New York artist conflates tales of American originators with black pop culture. His painted list of “founding mothers” includes the names Mo’Nique, Minaj and Pinkett Smith. Both the past and the future, it seems, are more revolutionary than the mass--media present.
To mark its fifth anniversary, Hamiltonian Gallery has assembled 11 works by 10 alumni of its fellowship program. The selection tends, unsurprisingly, toward the minimal and the conceptual. The show’s title, “Vantage Points,” probably doesn’t refer to so old--fashioned an artistic form as the landscape. Yet more than half the pieces are connected to that tradition, if untraditionally.
Joyce Yu--Jean Lee insinuates herself, standing and a little fidgety, into a pixilated video of a Chinese classical nature scene. In paint, ink and pencil, Jessica van Brakle depicts a steep staircase, framed by black leaves in the foreground. Magnolia Laurie’s hazy oil painting suggests yet doesn’t quite represent a vista. Mike Dax Iacovone traces the U.S.--Canada border with maps, video and colored yarn. Even Jonathan Monaghan’s two CGI prints include landscapes of a sort, although the world they show is that of computer games.
Most of the pieces are stark and muted, and sometimes involve chance. Selin Balci paints by growing microbes on boards, a random process that’s presented very tidily. Leah Hartman Frankel’s “Grayscale” arrays small found objects, mostly toys and miniatures, in a tonal progression from black to white. Michael Enn Sirvet’s sculpture is a column of white--coated aluminum, Swiss--cheesed with holes. Elena Volkova uses pencil to lightly texture paper that’s creased into squares. The chaos here is studiously contained.
The artist who calls himself Shungaboy took his alias from “shunga,” a Japanese term for erotica that literally means “spring pictures.” There are some overtly sexual images in the New York--born Japanese American’s show at Vitruvian Gallery, which specializes in male nudes. But most of “The DC Paintings,” so named because they were made at Vitruvian’s sketch sessions, are notable more for physicality than explicitness. The artist’s well--muscled subjects include dancers, boxers and wrestlers, with limbs and torsos more prominent than faces.
The artist works on paper, drawing with charcoal or marker and then painting with bright acrylic pigments. His use of color is surer than his use of line, and some of the strongest pieces are entirely painted. The vibrant, non--naturalistic hues suggest the Fauves, the early 20th--century art movement that yielded Matisse and Rouault. Shungaboy is not in their league, but his bold primary colors have a bit of their audacity.