TWO: SUPERIOR EXHIBITION SPACE - CLEVELAND,
Dunnieghe Slawson, "Snaegl,"
Despite the attempts to relegate postmodernism as a short-lived stylistic
movement to the academic dustbins of Art History 101 textbooks, it seems
that the overriding factors of disunity, chaos, and general "messiness"
are still very much with us. They reside in what could be called simply
the Cultural Mainstream. Even the aesthetic markers of the early to mid-'80s
are so prevalent now in everyday life that they seem less like an indicator
of a true Art Statement, and more like part of the American corporate
landscape. Take, for example, the general acceptance of Frank Gehry's
1979 thesis that "disunity is the present order." What started
as en edgy series of architectural dislocations (the facade for Gehry's
Santa Monica house) has become the barely eyebrow-raising cookie-cutter
Gehry designs which are popping up in many mid-level cities. Clever and
compelling as it may be, even the popular television series "Six
Feet Under" presupposes many of the basic premises of pomo performance
art: disjointed editing, the angst-ridden self as spectator, and a morbid,
if not surreal, narrative.
Flying in the face of the above is an ever-expanding group of artists
who may have cut their teeth on the aesthetic and historical cherry-picking
of the '80s, but who have since turned to the strictest tenets of Modernism;
namely, an interest in formal structure, the unity of natural pattern
and the predominance of order rather than self-examination. The most obvious
recent example of this trend has been the small but strikingly important
exhibit "Two" at Superior Exhibition Space, featuring the work
of Laurie Addis, Dunnieghe Slawson, Bruce Wallin and Kim Schoel. Superior,
a relatively new Cleveland exhibition space, has made an effort to bring
together the work of like-minded artists from New York and L.A. in tightly
edited shows that seem to be the antithesis of the recent monster biennials.
In a series of numerically titled shows, the curator and the space have
defined a recent rethinking of Modernist values.
The three section jacquard weaving titled "Alliteration I, II, III"
by Laurie Addis offers perhaps the best example of an artist who works
within a rational, highly structured format to produce a statement akin
to that of Mies van der Rohe's boxes. To appreciate Addis' work one must
disassociate weaving from the connotations which have plagued it; fiber
art craftiness, muddy surfaces, nature for nature's sake. Instead, Addis'
three square panels seem more like Mies' ribbon banded windows, separated
and removed from the Seagram building, but still reflecting the detritus
of the 20th century. Her use of black and silver thread creates a stunning
surface that makes one think less about texture (usually the focus of
contemporary weaving) and more about the complexity of mechanization.
Originally a painter, Addis took up weaving when she became interested
in the history of this looming process. Jacquard weaving is based on the
same binary system of mechanically punched cards that the first computer,
Charles Babbage's Analytical Engine, used. To only focus on the obvious
precision in Addis' panels, though, is to overlook the constructivist
transparency of form she is creating . Much like the sophisticated digitally
produced panels of Jeremy Blake, Addis' "Alliteration" series
forces us to rethink the role of support and ground in contemporary art.
Early 20th century photographers such as Albert Renger Patschz and Imogen
Cunningham created the so-called New Vision both in style and subject
by focusing on the almost mechanistic, repetitive patterns found in nature.
After exhibiting these photographs in the seminal 1929 Film und Foto exhibit
in Stuttgart, they influenced later generations who followed suit by interpreting
the precision of pattern and motif. Dunnieghe Slawson, a Los Angles based
sculptor and painter, brings to "Two" her own version of both
Modernism and Precisionism. Her beeswax cast sculptures such as "Snaegl"
adopt an animythical beast hybrid as the subject for a refreshing take
on Modernist regularity and pattern. The scales of the dragon-like "Snaegl"
recall the regularity and unity of design that Mathew Barney has investigated
in his Cremaster video series. Unlike Barney, however, Slawson's sculpture
(and drawing based on the sculpture, hung immediately behind the three
dimensional work) relies not on the self-referential as an exploratory
vehicle. These are strictly objects of pristine beauty which exist in
a realm that places the viewer in the role of consumer -- and, here's
the distinctly un-postmodernist rub -- without critiquing that. Rather
than making a witty comment about the rarefied nature of the art object,
these are rare constructions that exist somewhere between traditional
Chinese jade sculpture and Brancusi's anthropomorphic marbles.
Bruce Wallin's sculptural construction "Two Cups Posing as an Orange"
and Kim Schoel's "Flower" series of paintings both also seem
to be more about the reproduction of a perfect moment, rather than the
bland irony and so-called "social sculpture" with which the
art world has been inundated of late. Each of the artists has developed
a visual language to translate the tenets of Modernism via an intensive
study of objects. Schoel's repeating single flower (a shape based on an
organic kernel) is compelling in that she presents the image in a small
format, on square canvases which seem to harken back to the all-important
Modernist grid. Wallin's construction of two teacups attached to each
other brings "Two" back to its true Modernist origins -- the
Bauhaus. It's the sort of prototype object that one could imagine on Walter
Gropius' desk. Or his equivalent in the 21st century. Ahhh, if only...