TWO: SUPERIOR EXHIBITION SPACE - CLEVELAND, OHIO

 

Dunnieghe Slawson, "Snaegl," wax


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...

Eric Susyne
Cleveland, Ohio

2002