Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Gems Amid the Crowd: Marlborough Chelsea’s Summer Exhibition

[“Mad Mom,” Tom Otterness (2005) bronze. “Poppy Passion Pyre,” L.C. Armstrong (2007) acrylic, bomb fuse & linen on birch panel. “Wall Street: Rush Hour,” Will Ryman (2008) steel, paper mache, magic sculpt & paint. “Worship,” Benjamin Edwards (2008) acrylic on canvas. “Wall Painting (Firewall),” Bruce Robbins (2008) acrylic, wood resin, jute on panel.]

While almost dizzying in its incoherence, there are amazing works in Marlborough Chelsea’s Summer Exhibition in which it has trotted out (with exceptions) various works by its stable of artists. Running through September 4, one may find under one roof (indeed, in one room) the works of Magdalena Abakonowicz, Kenneth Snelson, Shuo Feng, Claudio Bravo, Manolo Valdes, and Red Grooms.

One can never go wrong with the whimsical and "pointed" sculpture by Tom Otterness. One of the United States’ premier public artists, he lays it on the line with his bronze works that “hang out the dirty linens” of our society—bringing representational bromides to such issues of greed, class, money, religion, immigration, and sexual relations. All this Otterness manages to do with his adorable (though at times menacing) figures. Truly, the viewer can find “meat” in these works. These likable “characters” encapsulate the artist’s philosophy of society as a living organism that moves forward only when its constituent parts function together—that even the smallest segment offers a vital contribution. All this without slapping the viewer in the face! Is it any wonder that his public art is so popular? Otterness’ substance is entrancing and has brightened many a New Yorkers’ commute. Indeed, seeing Otterness’ bronze figure in the rear of the gallery drew me in to see this show.

“Brooklyn Rail” reviewer Maxwell Heller perfectly described the work of Will Ryman: “[He] translates commonplace urban scenes into playful but unsettling sculptural gatherings. His portraits of city life emphasize the absurd, abandoning natural proportion in favor of dreamlike distortions in which lips and eyes balloon forward, furniture becomes architecture, and limbs stretch in fits of ecstasy…” By allowing creative materials to be left visible (e.g., wire mesh, struts, fasteners), viewers are reminded of the artist’s presence. These touches also give Ryman’s work a movement and immediacy.

Cooper Union graduate Bruce Robbins—who broke into the art world as a new image sculptor with his series of painted and constructed ladder and seesaw sculptures—offers very rich and meditative work calling forth structure.

Subconscious and relentless repetition come together in Benjamin Edwards’ powerful and transcendental works—combing through the flotsam and jetsam of our society and expressing our mutual path in a its illusiveness. Edwards’ aesthetic antennae absorb pasts, presents, and futures so tempered with disorganization and pitfalls. Who, what, how, and why are these various places we have inhabited and travelled? Will we see them, and at what price to ourselves? He flays the flurried and fragmented landscape of our mass culture, so fraught with alienation—doing so with energy, speed, and aplomb. Like Otterness, Edwards absorbs, synthesizes, and conveys the most sensitive issues of our environment, economy, technology, society without hyper-didacticism. Karmic unfolding of our society’s dizzying frenzy is elemental and visceral in his nuanced work—incorporating the real estate bubble, biodiversity, lack of cultural rectitude, consumerist delusion, corporate duplicity, and spiritual dearth in our teetering house of cards.

Magical realism and Romantic tradition inhabit L.C. Armstrong’s color-saturated and highly detailed maximalist paintings—accomplished with her signature technique of acrylic with bomb fuse and resin on linen. Her dazzling flower and landscape images stretch the pallet to the fullest. Known for working intuitively in a meditative state, Armstrong lets these images find themselves in her psyche and allows them to travel to her canvas. Both psychic and poetic, her landscapes engage streams both utopian and kitschy in intense explorations of nature’s power, perils, and awe. Her influences are rich and many and include John F. Kinsett (1816-1872) of the Hudson River School; the mood- and light-immersed works of Martin Johnson Heade (1819-1904); and the bold, geometric, and highly polished works of John McCracken. Indeed, Armstrong set forth in and reinvigorated a discarded niche ripe for reinvestigation.

This exhibition—in its concentration of work by some of America’s finest contemporary artists—is a must-see in these August days. While inconsistent, the viewer will be treated to powerful and rich works.

Summer Exhibition

Through September 4

Marlborough Chelsea

545 West 25th Street, NYC 10001

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