Saturday, October 29, 2011

How's That?

Extreme Materials 2
courtesy of The Memorial Art Gallery

Two new exhibitions will help start a discussion not likely to be resolved any time soon.  Let me address fans of traditional painting, drawing, and sculpture - Things Have Changed - so why not try something new?  Some may resist change because of the values that new media seem to encourage.  If you found deep resonance with traditional art forms, can you find that in the video and installation art so often encountered in contemporary museums and gallery space?  Are the artists featured at Rochester Contemporary Art Center and the Memorial Art Gallery just reflecting our own culture back to us?

I don't think you can easily dismiss a whole category of fine art - say video - if it doesn't fall into your comfort zone.  Video artists are working within a tradition that goes back over half a century. The fact that fine art video has to compete with other time based media like movies or television is part of the underdog equation, and part of the gallery and art investment complex.

The equation will change when the average person can dial up your experimental video ( or other art ) and have it in front of them on their iPad or wall screen to contemplate, savor and either accept or trash.  The internet is a great equalizer.  The internet can present a common - if very crowded - forum for a population of would-be fans.

However, problems abound with a proposed business model that now seems to turn away from the purchase and ownership of an art object.  On the side of the collector or fan - they have the experience or own a reproduction - this is the truth behind the notion of the simulacrum for the non-practitioner.  For a working artist - how will you support yourself?  Are you only there for the entertainment?

Into the breach of this curious transition are two exhibitions which focus our attention on what  artists want us to see:  Rochester Contemporary Art Center presents "Scapes" and the Memorial Art Gallery has 'Extreme Materials 2".  At the Art Center we have video presentations from Debora Bernagozzi, Jason Bernagozzi, and Sterz - all of whom live and work in Rochester, and Jamie Hahn from Spokane, WA - all in a provocative show about human-landscape interactions.

Sterz' projections are centered on textured aluminum panels which influences our perception of what looks like rain falling on a window pane - all in subtle shades of grey in his work titled "Redress".
Beyond that four talking heads on monitors in a work called "Dataspeak" chatter away at each other, decompose digitally and then start all over again after a long pause.  In "Form,Data,Form " of 2011 Jason Bernagozzi translates waves of information into patterns that look like a 3D oscilloscope.  In the back we have nine monitors showing aspects of a quiet stream with a soundtrack of filtered natural sounds that becomes an odd kind of surveillance film loop.

Contrast this with the new show "Extreme Materials 2" at the Memorial Art Gallery and that will give you something to think about.. So the artwork is not made with paints and brushes or clay - does it really matter?  Going through this show I couldn't help but think of the tradition of Hobo, or Tramp Art ( which was actually made by skilled crafts-people ) examples of which can be seen in the Memorial Art Gallery collection.  This is especially true for Jennifer Maestre's piece titled "Kraken", 2008 made up of pointy color pencils cut into a spiky cactus-like form, and also for the carefully painted screw head portrait by Andrew Meyers.

A sense of humor pervades the "Extreme Materials 2" exhibit - maybe it is the mocking tone of Sally Curcio's "Garden of Earthly Delights" or the fashionable dress made out of latex condoms by Adriana Bertini in 2006.  A wavy wall of translucent Neutrogena soaps creates a corridor that reminds me of Richard Serra, and did I really have to spend so much time looking at breakfast cereal on display as a copy of a Ravenna wall mosaic?

"Extreme Materials 2"  turns the art gallery into an amusement park, and what will be next?  Maybe a wax-museum, or pin-ball machines.. a real Coney Island of the mind and sensibility.  The artworld is fractured and fragmented, and the most we can hope for are threads of sensitivity that we can follow through the woods.