These Walls Can Talk
Solo art exhibits can be like monologues -- there's only one voice. Thematic group shows may offer more variety, but they're often like the dull chitchat you get when everyone agrees with one another. At a show like the "2004 CORE: Artists in Residence Exhibition" at the Glassell School of Art, though, the only predetermined connection between the works is that their creators were all accepted into the same program. This show can be compared to the talk at the odd table at a wedding reception, between cousins who haven't seen each other in 20 years. If they make small talk long enough, they're sure to stumble onto something in common.
CORE's icebreaker is definitely Colloquy, a work by Cindy Loehr that consists of two 50-inch Mitsubishi TVs sitting angled toward each other. Each of the giant screens is nearly filled with a hand puppet, the kind children make by drawing on their thumb and forefinger, moving their thumbs up and down to imitate a speaking mouth. The only markings here are two rhinestone eyes glued to each forefinger. One hand appears to be talking to the other.
You need headphones to hear the right hand speaking in a female voice -- the steady tones and familiar-sounding phrases of a reasonable, mature woman of some emotional intelligence. It's one of those one-sided relationship talks: She's exhorting the left hand to open up, communicate, share his feelings. The left hand tightens, thumb jammed closed, unwilling or unable to speak, vibrating with tension. The hands are hilariously expressive. After a few minutes, the voice sings, "Desire follows despair. Despair follows desire," and the monologue begins again. Even the repetition is familiar -- a brilliant take on an old story.
The three huge oils in Angela Fraleigh's untitled triptych pick up the cue with another perspective on the relationship thing. At first glance, they're reminiscent of romance-novel covers. The women are wearing period costumes with lots of silk and lace, and each is having some kind of romantic or sexual encounter. But their faces aren't portraying the ecstatic swoons typical of the genre; instead, they're skeptical, even calculating. In the left piece, a woman's breasts are literally bursting from her bodice, and a man's hand is on her knee; she's giving her off-canvas lover a look of shrewd appraisal. In the center work, a woman's face seems to be rising off the canvas, staring at the viewer with the wry awareness of a shared secret. In the last panel, a couple embraces. The man is shirtless, his back to us; the woman's face is turned away in a shudder, or a gesture of resistance. The paintings' backgrounds are rich, dark and abstract -- as interesting in their way as the stories in the foregrounds.
Jose Lerma chimes in with two large oil paintings, both untitled, that respond to this combination of the figurative and the abstract. In one, the top half of a polo shirt is depicted in heavy layers of pink paint. The area of the canvas where the rest of the shirt should be instead has drips of the same pink paint. Pencil lines indicate a neck and an arm coming out of the shirt, and a mysterious blue blob hangs behind the shirt's left shoulder. One gets the impression the artist may have put the piece aside to finish later, only to realize that this particular canvas needed no more paint. His other work also features a white background with strong patches of color. These are charming and cheerful paintings that escape being trite, and they have the same kind of intelligent playfulness present in the work of Paul Klee.
Incorrigible smart-aleck Danny Yahav-Brown brings the conversation back to sex with Impossible Measures: Language, which manages to make humorous references to both recent history and relationship difficulties with a photograph of a chalkboard hanging on a wall reading, "I did not have sex with that woman."
Two other works by Yahav-Brown are scattered through the gallery. Impossible Measures: Gratitude consists of a small fan placed on a cinder block, blowing toward a wall. Against the wall is a generic plastic shopping bag, held in place by the breeze from the fan. The bag is printed with the words "Thank You Thank You Thank You." Truly funny. The third one, Impossible Measures: Innocence, is the most visually impressive; it's a large Chromira print of a boy in white T-shirt and blue jeans, holding his arms behind him, where the viewer can see the fingers of his right hand crossed. The humor of the deception and the elegance of the composition coexist in a balanced way.
In a side room, too cool to hang with the other fools, is a video piece by Vasco Araujo. In it, a voice with a thick, theatrical English accent speaks lines from Hamlet while people in odd black clothes (one woman wears a hat with two birds on it) stand around in some very cool places. Sometimes these people seem to be looking for someone to sneer at, and at other times they express a dawning awareness of a suspicious odor. Eventually, we see home movies of a child playing in a patch of wildflowers; these are the highlight of the video.
Maya Schindler's General Meaning, which features the letters from its title's words arranged in star shapes on the wall, sums up the show. The CORE exhibition has some brilliant moments, and it gives the appearance of coherence, which is more than might have been expected. These works speak for themselves, but they also merge into a real conversation.
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