Any tour through the 2009 Review Studios' group exhibition should make time for multiple activations of Beniah Leuschke's "Yeah Right," an assembly of gears attached to a welded steel valve that, when you turn it, operates an aluminum split-flap display, recalling an old-school digital clock, alternating noisily between the title's two words.
The beautifully fabricated piece draws together multiple Leuschke enthusiasms, including jokey wordplay, interactivity, Rube Goldberg mechanisms and attention to craft. During Leuschke's solo Review exhibit this fall, "Yeah Right" was installed next to a wall-sized reproduction of a familiar Nigerian scam e-mail. The machined response was ridiculously elaborate and funny. Without the accompanying spam text, the piece just yells "YEAH, RIGHT" at the whole 2009 group exhibition, which includes works by resident artists Elijah Gowin, Warren Rosser, Andrea Flamini, Colby K. Smith, Lonnie Powell and James Woodfill. Review's stable of midcareer artists is accomplished, and the exhibit is a knockout, but how often do you get license to shout defiant, albeit automated, skepticism at a whole art gallery?
Davin Watne's breathtaking "Stick to the Herd" absorbs your manually operated criticism in its drama and stillness. In the left panel of these two pencil drawings, deer emerge from a beautiful, white spray-painted mist; the right panel reveals the herd's path around the crashed remains of a jet airliner. The fuselage diminishes into the fog; the image strongly evokes the silence after catastrophe. In Watne's work, nature gathers around the wreckage of human endeavor — which he generally portrays as an actual vehicular wreck. It's a trope that a lesser artist might wear out, but Watne brings it unexpected emotion and drama. And despite the implied narrative of the images, the artist avoids what Andrew Wyeth called "picture making," never slipping into literal illustration.
Then you might go back to "Yeah Right" and give it another spin. Repeat as necessary.
Multimedia and performance artist Diana Heise exhibits a work consisting of a series of 16 small photographs — framed together, all taken from a single angle — of flowers in a vase on a windowsill. The images vary in color saturation, the focal points alternating among the flowers, the window and some indeterminate middle distance beyond the glass. The loveliness of the prose poem that Heise has composed to serve as the work's title saves it from self-indulgence. Too long to reprint here, it tells the story of a Liberian man who, having lost his family in the 1980 military coup there, reacts emotionally to the artist's story of her father growing flowers for her mother.
In a textile work called "Solid #1," Marcie Miller Gross painstakingly glues felted wool-sweater pieces into an imposing cinder block of color and texture. Like much of Gross' work, the piece combines the softness of fabrics and a fascination with geometry. The strips of material aggregate into defined edges and take on a pleasing density. It's a satisfyingly tactile work, and on a slow, cold Friday night of gallery hopping in the Crossroads, you could poke it with a finger and nobody would see you. Just saying.
Where Gross combines unexpected materials into a deliberate work of color and shape, May Tveit adopts a nearly opposite approach, imposing color and structure on natural forms. Early in the decade, she began transforming hay bales with candy-colored paints; here, she exhibits four small rectangular bales of wheat straw coated in plastic and painted. Titled "Frosted Flakes," the piece actually looks a bit more like Frosted Mini-Wheats. Serious art criticism generally avoids the issue of lickability, but it would be dishonest not to say these pieces look extremely lickable.
Barry Anderson's "Somnambulance" is a single discrete work, but it colors the entire exhibit with a wash of ambient sound. Occasionally the snippets of voices and music, mixed with a David Lynchian low whoosh, hint at something sinister. All of it emanates from Dolby 5.1 speakers displayed on the wall so that the exposed black wires seem arranged like spidery vessels leading from some central artery.
Archie Scott Gobber, an artist engaged with text, type and message, exhibits "Painting Removed," a kind of metapainting consisting of a canvas stretcher, from which the canvas has been unartfully cut away, the way international art thieves do it in movies. The phrase "Painting Removed for Arts' Sake" appears behind the canvas as a smart, bold logotype. The piece is less a defining statement about art than a series of interesting, enduring questions, one tumbling from the next. Specifically, is Gobber suggesting that the act of removal is itself an aesthetic statement? And if he's implying that kind of reductive anti-process, isn't the active, premeditated construction of a "removed" painting actually sort of making the opposite statement? And isn't that question itself exactly the kind of statement implied by Gobber's piece?