You know how, when you're deep in the interior of a large, encyclopedic museum, you can feel detached from the rest of the world, like those dispossessed and encased objects around you?
Craig Subler's work evokes that feeling. In this exhibition at Byron Cohen, the past Charlotte Street Foundation award winner presents 11 works from the past three years, the titles and subjects of which all refer to museums. In his mostly large-scale works on paper, vases, Egyptian sarcophagi and other artifacts mingle with figures of enchantment and oddity — a Marie Antoinette in drag, ghostlike figures and marionettes. Subler marries fragments of things, ideas and styles in a pastiche that seems completely reasonable and yet deliberately and engagingly out of sync.
In his recently finished "Museum/Egyptian Hall," two portly men stand in an ambiguous space they share with a sarcophagus, a sphinx and a modern abstract painting. They all seem disconnected from one another — the men do not interact, and one has his back to the viewer; they're united only by their shared space. Despite the austerity of the presentation — the men almost float in this airless place — Subler keeps the viewer engaged through the strength of color, its application and the nonsensical yet compelling subject matter.
Subler, a professor of printmaking in UMKC's Art and Art History Department, shares this exhibition with his fellow faculty member Barry Anderson, an assistant professor of electronic media. Like Subler, Anderson investigates socially and aesthetically constructed spaces, but to a different effect.
Anderson's crisp, single-channel video pieces suggest a vacuumlike space. In "Vertical Blinds 1" and "Vertical Blinds 2," Anderson compiles 1950s and '60s advertising images in stripes that fade in and out of focus as they move across the screen (from left to right in one piece and right to left in the other). A clear sense of fore-, middle- and deep background in these pieces provides a satisfying opportunity to enter the work and move past the surface of the screen.
Anderson says he appreciates the look of the vintage images, including their stiff characters and bad registrations. He's also following his interest in contemporary motion graphics and animation. "In these specific videos I'm interested in creating/exploring infinite spaces that exist in a strange realm between abstraction/ambience and pop/surrealism," he writes in an e-mail, citing styles that have influenced his work at different times.
Elsewhere, Anderson dispatches bubbles as a central design feature. In the single-channel video "Soft Velvet Float," some of those bubbles are empty, but others contain faces, eyes, noses and other facial features. It has a collage effect that suggests an affinity more to painting and its compositional structures than to video or film.
Though their work is visually different, Subler and Anderson both construct spaces that resonate, reminding us that the places we visit — both physically and psychically — coexist and commingle.