Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Retinal Non-Retinal: Idiot’s Delight at Janet Kurnatowski

Idiot’s Delight at Janet Kurnatowski Gallery

November 18 to December 18, 2011
205 Norman Avenue at Humboldt Street
Brooklyn, (718) 383-9380

Craig Olson, a painter of bright lyrical abstractions, has brought together artists spanning several generations for the group exhibition he has curated at Janet Kurnatowski’s, Idiot’s Delight, from recent MFA grads to established mid-career artists.  His people are unafraid to experiment, remaining equally unfettered by tradition or trend.Where there is humor in this show it is in the service of engagement with something of substance. Katherine Bradford’s Invisible Underpants, with its coarsely-hewn superhero figure and bold palette, is worked in the artist’s familiar conciseness, in what is currently called a “provisional” technique, accomplishing a lot with a little. The see-through underpants reveal the weave of raw canvas, and it splits and dissolves our super hero into figure and ground, analogy and smears of paints. It’s a fragile balance but the risks pay off.

Elisa Soliven, Untitled Portrait, 2011. Plaster, burlap, rice, wood, acrylic & leaves, 58 x 18 x 18 inches. Courtesy of Janet Kurnatowski

Elisa Soliven, Untitled Portrait, 2011. Plaster, burlap, rice, wood, acrylic & leaves, 58 x 18 x 18 inches. Courtesy of Janet Kurnatowski

Chris Martin uses the opposite approach with his For the Protection of Amy Winehouse, piling paint can lid-sized circles of dried paint onto a thick impasto ground to create a mausoleum with quarter-sized plastic gemstones, paper towel, an image of Winehouse and innumerable other detritus. Dated 2007- 2010, one can’t help but see the morbid failure implicit in the title in the crowded surface of the painting.

In Peter Acheson’s small, untitledpiece the entry point is the painted text “Hawk Feather” on an upside down newspaper clipping. This starts a cascade of memory and association, which further opens the reading of the painting as an experience and the record of an experience.

A funny remark overheard at the opening  rang true: the work here is “retinal non-retinal.”  The reference, of course, is to Duchamp’s call for non-retinal conceptualism. Olson includes works by pseudonymous artists S.H. and Ishmael Bubble: a candle wax and dried tea rose combine, and a signed UTZ red hot potato chips bag, adding to the sense of Duchampian mischief.

EJ Hauser’s subverted portrait Paul, a gestural and muddy bust traversed by red green and yellow horizontal lines, both engages and obstructs the gaze charging the piece with a winning punk energy, while Deirdre Sword’s rich umber and orange painting, Untitled (Holly Fool’s Sceptre), hovers between an Abstract Expressionist field and a palimpsest of script. Like oil soaked mud, the painting is both beautiful and foreboding.

J.J. Manford’s One Can’t Think of One’s Soul While Eating feels like two paintings clinging to each other and vying for their attention. The uneasy tension created at the sharp borders between color plains shakes the stability of the composition to near breaking point. But like the other work in the show, Manford manages to keep the counterpoints from vibrating the painting apart.

Ben La Rocco’s Voodoo’s Kustoms exhibits an understated modernism with playfully irreverent marks dispersed on the surface that look like hand drawn maps or bar napkin doodles. Paired with Portal, a bright green drawer face with the broken text “tradition” and scores reminiscent of the marks made to pass the days in solitary confinement, he hints at the idea of art both liberated from and indebted to history.  Tamara Gonzales displays similar ambivalence towards the past in Mariastein with its layered bright spray paint using lace as its stencil.

There is a nice dialogue between the two large sculptures in the show and the remaining small paintings by Linnea Paskow and Thomas Micchellii. Elisa Soliven’s Untitled Portrait is a charismatic bust reminiscent both of Picasso’s Head of Marie Therese and a Huma Bhabha sculpture. The white plaster used to form the head echoes Micchellii’s small work Thrice, with its three-quarter profile of a face painted red on white. James Clark’s Thermal Specialist is a construction blending the textures of found surfaces and applied marks into a figure that isn’t quite organic or robotic. Formal elements in the sculpture, including a long rectangular box lit from within and a green wooden ball, compliment the palette and circular shape in Paskow’s Red Ball, exuding the satisfying freedom found elsewhere in Idiot’s Delight.

Ben La Rocco, Voodoo Kustoms, 2011.  Oil on linen, 48-3/4 x 33-1/4 inches. Courtesy of Janet Kurnatowski

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Katherine Bradford, Clear Underpants, 2011. Acrylic on raw canvas, 28 x 32 inches. Courtesy of Janet Kurnatowski

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