Painter Seth Adelsberger shakes things up in Civilian Art show

Linn Meyers's
Linn Meyers's "Untitled" (2011) is ink on mylar. She depicts structure through simple repetition.
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By Kriston Capps
Thursday, March 10, 2011; 9:52 PM

Give credit where it's due: Seth Adelsberger has shaken things up. His current show at Civilian Art Projects looks nothing like the work he exhibited there in 2009, when the Baltimore painter showed neon, psychedelic, geometrical abstractions. His old work had a very Charm City look to it: the trippy and silly yet precise style that characterizes so much of the work that comes out of Baltimore, from the music of Dan Deacon and the Wham City collective to the art that Adelsberger and partner Alex Ebstein show at their gallery, Nudashank.

If Adelsberger's old work is Baltimore, his new work is the Mall: studied, historical and buttoned-up. "Bordering on Painting" is a serious failure of imagination, because Adelsberger didn't do his homework.

With "Bordering on Painting," Adelsberger has abandoned the pictorial plane and gone meta, focusing on the situation of the frame and canvas. With "Dos Equis," for example, he's crossed two stretcher bars. Three pieces called "Border Painting" are simple, large, painted frames. For "Framing Device," he's taken the found wood of what appeared to be a shattered frame and framed it.

The pairing of "Border Painting (Black)" and "Border Painting (White)" is handsome, in a decorative sense, to be sure. But where is the Elizabeth Murray explosion of the frame, which she shaped to match the weird figures - guts, squiggles, music notes - that she depicted during the '70s and '80s? Or the '60s elegance of a minimal, rounded, polygonal Ellsworth Kelly?

Adelsberger's "Studio Fleur," an assemblage of stretcher bars connected like a puzzle of right angles, hints at the strategy that guided Frank Stella from his "Black Paintings" to his shaped canvases in the late 1950s.

It was way back in 1949, in fact, that another artist cut to the point Adelsberger wants to make. That year, painter Lucio Fontana began his "Spatial Concept" series, in which he simply slashed painted canvas as a kind of brushstroke, defying all expectations of gestural abstraction. Adelsberger, despite his embrace of stretcher bars and found wood, is still focused primarily on the pictorial surface - like Fontana was. But with one elegant stroke, Fontana found a way to conflate canvas and format, leaving little room for an apprentice.

A radical departure such as Adelsberger's takes guts, and if it's the worst show that takes place all spring, it will still be brave to have taken this experiment live. But in abandoning the Baltimore mold for the history of the frame, Adelsberger's set a much more difficult task for himself - maybe an impossible one.

Jason Falchook at Civilian

"Laying Tracks," a separate solo exhibition at Civilian by photographer Jason Falchook, is harsh work. In a series of 16 small photographs, Falchook finds jagged geometries and abrupt abstractions by photographing the city up close and personally.

You can almost smell the gasoline and garbage in "Untitled (Rainbow)," a streetscape taken nearly from the perspective of the gutter. A rainbow glimmer in an oil-slicked puddle on the street is the kind of detail that flies by a person hustling from one meeting to another downtown on a rainy day.

It's not just what Falchook notices, but what he seeks. "Untitled (Spear)" is a stray mark that looks like the tail of a comet. "Untitled (Beads)" is a close-up of water droplets on a reflective surface, perhaps a car window; reflected in the mirror surface of a rivulet is the light from a streetlight or a passing car. The rivulet looks like a deep fissure in the earth, the surrounding droplets like boulders.

Falchook's photographs are dark and urban: He favors rich blacks and grays paired with jarring bold colors, as with one photo of a nightclub wall reflecting red and blue lights. His photos feature as many angular hooks as a Fugazi song, and they're just as severe. Erratic trails of water that meet in a puddle in another untitled photograph look like lightning from an inverted thundercloud. In "Untitled (Fixture)," a perfectly symmetrical photograph of a fluorescent light fixture, it's the light itself that's harsh.

Consider that the series began in Marfa, Tex. - where Falchook traced the narrow arc of a light passing through a window as it fell on a wall. Three of those angular shots appear in the show. Marfa is known for the hard-edged geometry of its patron saint, Donald Judd, whose work is all over town. Only Falchook would go there to look for it in the light.

Linn Meyers at G Fine Art

Linn Meyers's work scales up. Viewers who recall her wall drawing from the Phillips Collection's "Intersections" series in 2010 or saw her work at the American University Museum at the Katzen Arts Center (on exhibit through Sunday) know that she's able to create incredible drawing textures on a large scale. But can she do small?

At a glance, the ink-on-mylar drawings for "The Adjacent Possible," her solo show at G Fine Art, don't see Meyers introducing anything new. Meyers draws fine lines and traces around them, over and over again, following simple patterns, like a quilter; when her hand strays, making a tiny kink in a straight line, she retraces the jump in subsequent lines. The resulting ripple is a deceptively three-dimensional feature of works that are nothing but line.

Meyers works cosmically and craftily, depicting structure through simple repetition and undermining it with accidental chaos. Even at a small scale - note that none of the eight drawings in Meyers's show is that small - the stressful balance between organization and entropy is apparent.

Working with an entire wall, Meyers has room to plan but also license to deviate in big ways. Sometimes, her decisions as creator are too evident in her vast cosmologies - like the circular voids she left in her Katzen drawing. At a smaller scale, though, Meyers's work is more controlled - and the mistakes and deviations matter all the more.

Capps is a freelance writer.

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