Jeana Baumgardner

blixa bargeld, sari carel, juan gomez, bjorn melhus: momenta art o brooklyn, new york


Juan Gomez, 090116, sumi ink on rice paper

There are events in your life that you know took place. There are events that you dreamt. And then there are other peoples' stories that somehow become part of the events in your memory. So are you sure you can distinguish which one is which? Maybe so, but you certainly cannot assume others can.
Using familiarity to expose deception seemed to be the premise of the untitled show at Momenta Art, curated by two of its Directors Eric Heist and Michael Waugh. It presented four artists and four mediums including video, drawing, painting, and photography. The show exhibited artists Blixa Bargeld, Sari Carel, Juan Gomez, and Bjorn Melhus, all whom examine domestication and dislocation and “find solace in the unlikeliest of places.” All of the work explored familiar settings, objects, and people in a way that exposes the nature of these things as both certain and careless. Each work has a dialogue in reasoning, or its own set of standards that carry complete humility and aplomb. At what point does familiarity and repetitiveness in the objects that surround us, the people we see, and the places we go create skepticism about our own lives? As expressed by the curators, these artists explore familiarity like the way people experience déjà vu.

Sari Carel, bon voyage, oil on canvas

Drains, knobs, fixtures, outlets, light switches, bathtubs, shower curtains, mineral salts, and soap dispensers all appear in Blixa Bargeld's “serialbathroomdummyrun”, a series of travel log photos taken over 12 years in hotel bathrooms in various countries. I examined this work like I do my lottery tickets, going back and forth half frantically, to make sure I didn't pass up that missing link to match. I took mental notes: three outlets here, two salts there, four soaps, one filled tub, three unfilled tubs, one Blixa hiding behind the camera, three Blixas exposed . . . etc. The most unique additive to one of the bathrooms was a David statue, only emphasizing the mass produced atmosphere and experience that is any hotel bathroom. The artist exploits the monotonous nature of hotel bathrooms and accommodations and the industry's attempt to veil the thousands of people who were there before you. It is this deception where the history of all of these places is revealed, along with the imagined stories of those who came and left before you. One can only hope these are not the highlights of his journey.
If Francis Bacon and MC Escher could've produced children, these would be the characters in the drawings of Juan Gomez. Using ink on rice paper, Gomez's work reflects Mayan and Japanese erotic drawings. Somewhere between romance and rape, the couples in these drawings meet. The naked copulating bodies are like thin rods, circles, with nipples like suctions. Their appendages are intertwined and when looking it's hard to tell who's who and who's what is who's. The women have big feet like mallets with a matching ass. The men have large penises that accentuate the thinness of their stature. The women's long straight black hair drapes their face, which simultaneously expresses both fear and delight. With these simple forms, the captivated expression of these characters is complex and naughty. Similar to contemporary film and media, the effect creates the desire to look, with a bashfulness to study.
Big ideas come in small packages, or in this case, simple forms. In the paintings of Sari Carel, the image of a globe is repeated, measured, and matched against the simple things in life like cherries, or a glass of red wine. Using iconography both of the public realm (maps, globes, foods) and those of the theoretical world (verticality, axis, color) the artist presents not only a formal dialogue, but includes a critique of meaning and hierarchy within both worlds. In two of the paintings titled universal and geography, large and thick multi-colored Barnett Newman-like stripes act like a backdrop for two black and white toned globes. At once, the lines seem to represent an artistic axis on which these globes are based upon or vice versa, and on the other hand, if this were Broadway, they'd both be competing for the lead. It is this kind of visual and theoretical push and pull that is involving. The other two paintings in the show titled victory and bon voyage put some humor in the mix. In the first, a large “V” invades an enlarged detail of a globe, while two blue cherries (also globes) dangle ever so carefully in the crux of the V. Here is a sense of formal authority and control, with a hint of sexual visual punning. In the painting titled bon voyage a painted red glass sits ever so formally incorrectly in the center of the canvas, just off enough to be right. It is measured up to three seemingly dip sticks of yellow, gray, and white and again, is presented with a globe in the backdrop. Here the formal hierarchy is in constant flux with a link, perhaps to the intoxication of farewells in the midst of travel.

Bjorn Melhus, video still from Fire Scene

The video of Bjorn Melhus titled Fire Scene from his AutoCenterDrive, presents a conversation between Jim Morrison as a post psychedelic father, and James Dean as his earnest son. Using sample dialogue from East of Eden, Rebel Without a Cause and the recording of Morrison's “The American Prayer,” Melhus visually inserts himself into both roles. The two men converse and lie at campfire's side and the scene is shot from above at close range. The outcome of this ghostly mix is a surprisingly sensible conversation of pleading and longing with questions like, “Will you help me?” and “Have you been born yet?” Later one asks, “Will you die for me?” and the other solemnly responds, “I don't know.” There are points where each of these characters directs their plea at the viewer and this becomes both serious and humorous. In this fashion, the conversation lucidly concludes with one saying, “I love you, Peace on earth, I love you.” What is fascinating about this work is its believability. By sight these characters are the same, however, this fact is overshadowed by the endearing and serene nature of the characters themselves. Because of this, the relationship is conceivable and exudes the equally sensitive and frustrated sensibilities of the actor and singer, who once spoke these words. More importantly though, it is here where the psychology of this piece transcends its representation. In all these layers of self and characterization is an objectivity of the history of the scripted dialogue and the people, both real and fictional, who have ever promoted it.
The work in the show is both unassuming and relevant. Untitled and ambitious, the show exhibits four mediums through four artists, who utilize a hint of skepticism to parade and question how we experience our emotional and physical products. Sometimes it's the longevity of things that makes them seem so eerily foreign.

Jeana Baumgardner
New York, New York