On the night of January 11 when dozens of Dallas galleries (most in the Design District) had their openings, the crowds were excited to see what was offered from the new exhibitions of the new year, likely only to discover the same mixed-bag feeling as I had.
I was momentarily confused when I made my first stop at the Conduit Gallery. Large format of house plant photos against white background were everywhere, in the style of IKEA. Granted, you won’t need water to keep them green and decorative; still it made me wonder if it was an experiment in which a hidden camera somewhere was to capture the punch line – the expressions of the audience when they tried to justify the sterile images with the price tags. For me, a removal of any hint of subjectiveness is the most subjective form in visual arts. What remains unclear is where to draw the fine line between the inventiveness of the few (including artists and some critics) and absurdity in the name of decoration.
Justin Quinn’s Some Things Are Not Possible has intriguing layers. The collage of cardboard, the scratched wood panel surfaces, and mostly, the usage of letter “E” in some compositions, combine a pictorial acuteness with a perceptual experience. The titles are as whimsical as their unique designs. For example, how would we interpret Third Mister Weird? I saw the U-shaped collage is made of repetitive nonsensical typed letters in different sizes and fonts. It kind of reminded me of Glenn Ligon, who fully explored the conceptual power of languages in his new works. But here, the grouping of letters is more for its graphical impact, and what is not possible is to read them with intellectual delight.
If Quinn’s works are succinct in letters, only enough to balance the design, John Adelman’s new drawings in Holly Johnson Gallery are nothing but. The drawings, made of ink writing in black, white or sometimes blue, are stunning in their overall subtle tonality and compositional simplicity. Adelman strictly follows the same sequence of words (and their definitions) in a Merriam-Webster dictionary. That compulsive madness is balanced by his control of layering in achieving a subdued calmness. I admired that determined laborious processes, but who would feel the urge to decipher those words — thousands of them at least, intertwined like doodling scribbles from one’s subconsciousness. Like in Quinn’s works, we were presented with a maze of words that refuse to be read. Yet the nature of their sinuous calligraphic lines demands us to trace each of them, as if the process is the not means, but the goal. They are like action paintings by Pollock, except through a much more lengthy process. The end result is a conundrum: I do not know who is ridiculed here: Our inability to read words out of that exactness in a dictionary copy or the futility in using a dictionary at the first place as the source of inspiration.
That headache of deciphering words was totally gone by the time I hit Red Arrow Gallery. Negative Capability is an installation show by Jared Holt, Pierre Krause and H. Schenck with everyday objects and ideas. There are pranks in every corner, like the sign “EXPLOIT ME PLEASE” at the bottom of the wall by Pierre Krause. No labels can be found throughout the gallery (except a handout at the door). So one is left to his own resources to roam around and interact with objects. The center piece is a pile of paper, cut out with words. Even though the strip of paper is only less than 4 inches tall, the sheer length requires it stacks up like a sculpture. Unlike Quinn and Adelman, the sentences look meaningful, either narrative or maybe rhetoric, except layers of strips plays the hide-and-seek game with human eyes. If the text here were copy of a Relient K manual as used by Adleman in his previous works, only God could read.
The most unassuming yet exciting shows of the night were at 500X Gallery. Bernardo Cantu’s sculptural paintings with recycled materials were refreshing and rewarding to see. The bright colors and strong patterns invite viewers to examine layers and texture of materials in close proximity. The selected works by MFA students from Texas Woman’s University (juried by the department professors) proves to be diverse and non-conforming. Nathan Madrid’s oil paintings explore the decorative potentials of everyday objects. Whether it is a sink, a fountain or a paper towel dispenser, the thingness of these objects radiates a transformed illumination. The highlight of the group show came from Allison Proulx. In one installation named Demolition, she orchestrated collage, paintings with found objects into an entertaining display of destruction work scene. The complexity lies in her ability to arrange seemingly randomly selected graphics and objects into a sensual and sensible piece of work, in which each detail could air its own digress. That constructive cleverness is evident in her mixed media painting The Rise of Kawaii. The chaotic nature of Japanese urban scene is fully justified by her choice of collage objects, including toys that are used for window displays of a painted department store. Words fail. This seemed to be the theme of the opening night. But here, words fail to describe the incongruity between painterly expressiveness and connotative excitement of pop culture. As bizarre and entertaining as collage pieces seem to be individually (some are clips of horrific events while others are cute cartoon figures), together they speak an eerie beauty out of sadness –after all, it is beautiful to be living, even in the world we no longer comprehend.
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