States of Matter at Avis Frank, a Treat for the Senses

This past Friday, the Avis Frank Gallery in the Heights opened a shared exhibition by two artists that come at conceptualization from similar a mindset; their execution, however, is as different as comparing the forest to the ocean.

States of Matter, a collection of works by Alex Larsen and Dylan Conner, is a playground for the senses. Although I wouldn't advise you to touch anything, the work beckons you to come closer and try (don't do it, though). The pieces also entice your sense of smell; melted plastic can smell acrid or sweet, depending on the nose. And you can almost hear the work whispering to you, waves crashing and the bubbling of plastic lava fills your ears.

Larsen and Conner are colleagues; both are graduates of the Maryland Institute College of Art, as well as working together at El Rincon Social studios. They obviously influence each other; at times I had to double check which artists' work I was looking at. But they also have their own style that is incorporated throughout.

Larsen's work is more varied. His materials run the gamut; steel, plastic, wood, enamel. And the manner in which he uses these substances change from piece to piece. In the "Extrusion Studies," altering sized squares and rectangles dominate the far wall of the gallery space. The pieces appear wildly different from one another, but the utilization of common materials provide a through line: plastic. One-by-one strands of plastic fall from Larsen's canvas, plastic circles melt into one another and plastic bullets make puncture wounds in steel frames. The result is fascinating and eye-catching.

In "Material Collision" Larsen has created a large steel wall hanging that has been physically crashed into by a steel ball. An indentation mars the piece, which is its purpose. Is the ball really in the wall, though? Did Avis Frank know that they would have a hole in their gallery wall? If only you could touch it, you could know for sure. It's wonderful how this simple concept can make your senses and imagination go wild.

Conner's pieces have more in common with one another, at first glance, than Larsen's. Many of Conner's sculptures are composed of wave-like protrusions. According to the artist's statement, he is quite influenced by the ocean and this is quite obvious. The wavy slices, constructed from steel, polymer gypsum and enamel, not only visually invoke the high seas, but they also made me think of sound waves. What does sound look like? Perhaps it would take the form of Conner's stark white crests?

Both artists seem to have a knack for manipulating their source material into making it appear that it is in its natural state. Steel and plastic never looked so unaffected. This collection has a short run, now through the end of August, so get there while you can.

States of Matter at the Avis Frank Gallery is on display through August 31. Days and times are Wednesday to Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. and by appointment. For more information visit avisfrank.com

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