Cuisine de Pop
The show's title -- "All You Can Eat: New Work by Sue Irion, Gavin Perry, and Mette Tommerup" -- makes it sound like an aesthetic buffet of rich dishes for an art-hungry audience.
But the exhibition, now at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood, is far from a lavish meal. It's actually a surprisingly Spartan spread that includes only three dozen or so pieces by a trio of contemporary artists. If they were chefs, their specialty would be nouvelle cuisine: light, simple concoctions served up with minimal fuss, garnished, if at all, with only the most basic culinary flourishes.
Minimal is the key word here. Irion, Perry, and Tommerup seem to have absorbed minimalism and post-minimalism, or at least selectively sampled them, taking what suits their purposes before moving on.
The South Florida-based Perry uses sharply defined shapes that are once or twice removed from geometry. His work kicks off the show with four freestanding pieces scattered across the floor of the museum's main gallery, accompanied by a pair of large diptychs on one wall.
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Transmitting Live from Mars is the most imposing, not to mention enigmatic, of the four on the floor. It's a mixed-media conglomeration of two jagged constructions made of resin, glitter, wood, and galvanized steel, resting on a bed of four overlapping panels of carpet. The piece is dominated by a large, irregularly shaped slab of glittery purple resin, braced by wood and metal. A smaller, similar panel stands behind and to the side of it. The four carpets they rest on are quite a contrast, drawing mostly on earthy colors and featuring big cats -- a tiger, a panther, a lion -- and, on one rug, a lion and a woman.
Another Perry creation near the other end of the gallery, End of a Century (Speaker Box Prototype), also makes use of a wood-and-metal construction. One surface is covered with the same purple, glitter-flecked resin, while velvet with gold and white stripes accents two other surfaces.
The other two Perry pieces -- I'm not sure whether to call them sculptures or installations -- add neon lights to the equation, whatever that is. Untitled (No Distance Left to Run) consists of a rectangular wooden column almost five feet tall with the silhouette of a rearing horse on the front. The two sides have large triangular cutouts, and the back is completely open to reveal the pale blue glow of the neon inside. For Disarm the Sexes, the artist outfits a low-slung piece of laminate about seven feet long with red neon stripes along the sides and a pair of bull horns at one end, accented with small strips of rope and a swath of Louis Vuitton fabric.
Perry's altogether more pleasing paintings, Disturb the Universe and Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun (the title is from an old Pink Floyd song), are big, sleek diptychs painted on aluminum with acrylic urethane. The sparkling white surfaces of each piece's identical panels are broken only by simple bands of color. Call it minimalism revisited.
Ultimately, though, I'm not quite sure what to make of Perry's work, and his titles aren't much help. Art and Culture Center Curator Samantha Salzinger's introduction to the show claims that he "explores Americans' obsession with car culture" and that his works "reveal the relationship between mass-production and the individual. The work focuses on the subculture of customizing cars as the individual's rebellion against the homogenization of the mass-produced object. Slick, glossy surfaces, electric colors, and racing stripes define Perry's work, addressing the dynamics of masculinity and sex appeal."
For me, anyway, Salzinger's ruminations obscure rather than illuminate Perry's oblique pieces. She comes much closer to pinning down Irion, whose work is as wispy and evanescent as Perry's is solid. For what Salzinger characterizes as Irion's "snapshot aesthetic," the Switzerland-based artist projects photographs onto large canvases that are coated with light-sensitive, fluorescent photo emulsions. After lengthy exposures, Irion washes the excess paint away, leaving the ghostly images that appear when the canvases are bathed in black light.
Here, five of these pieces capturing mundane images of South Florida are staggered down the length of a narrow, darkened gallery. Four of them are double-sided. In a smaller gallery, just one piece hangs slightly off-center, a life-size canvas with a likeness of Bruce Lee and a Zen-flavored quote from the actor that reads, "The highest art is no art. The highest form is no form."
Salzinger's take on Irion makes more sense. The artist, she writes, traffics in "images of tourism, urban environments, and pop culture icons... creating an installation environment that explores America's fascination with tourist traps and strip malls, exposing the psychological alienation between man and his environment."
These ideas coalesce in Irion's final contribution to the show, a room-sized, site-specific installation called Take Out. Its centerpiece is a little portable Chinese bar painted a garish hot pink, fully stocked with a variety of cocktail paraphernalia. A few feet away, Irion has painted one of her photo-emulsion images -- this one of city traffic seen through a wash of pink -- directly onto two adjacent walls. All that's missing is a tinny soundtrack of some sort to add an aural dimension to the melancholy of this anonymous space.
Sandwiched between Perry's and Irion's work is that of Tommerup, a young Danish artist now operating out of Miami. It's by far the most satisfying component of "All You Can Eat," although it also strikes me as least connected to Salzinger's notion of the show as "a playful look at consumers' appetite for popular culture" in which the artists "explore the issues of the oversaturated, super-sized, new and improved products of contemporary life."
Tommerup, who was trained as a traditional painter and printmaker, has lately turned to digital technology, with which she achieves the startling effects seen in this show. Three pieces in the museum lobby hint at the possibilities she has hit upon. Nothing, however, is adequate preparation for the impact of her work when it's displayed in multiples.
The museum's main gallery, for example, devotes two whole walls to 15 of Tommerup's works. The curving south wall is an ideal space for eight round pieces, each two feet in diameter, and the long center wall features seven square and rectangular pieces mounted side by side, a few inches apart, to form a long, horizontal visual continuum.
Amazingly, there's nothing sterile or cold and mechanical about Tommerup's imagery, which lends credence to her claim that she approaches it as if she were mixing old-fashioned pigment. The lines may seem impossibly clean and sharply defined, the colors uniform and perfectly modulated, but there's an ineffable warmth emanating from these "paintings." They're weirdly organic and inorganic at the same time.
Tommerup has said that some of her digital work resembles mandalas, the geometric designs used in Buddhism and Hinduism meditation to represent the universe and its underlying balance and harmony. It's an apt characterization. Each of the round pieces from the artist's "Orb Passage" series is a cosmos unto itself, a swirling mass of color and form in which order emerges from seeming chaos. Similarly, the square and rectangular pieces in the "Under Light" and "Lightning Space" series are charged with a force that provides symmetry and resolution.
I'm baffled by Salzinger's efforts to impose the show's theme onto Tommerup as well as Perry and Irion. Again, from the introduction: "24 hour shopping, reality television, gossip channels, online dating; contemporary popular culture is a smorgasbord of useless information and mindless entertainment... As we sit at the edge of our seats to witness ugly ducklings turning into swans, 'Average Joes' into millionaires, and celebrities into royalty, we wonder, 'will she really eat that pile of worms in 20 seconds for the win?' The three artists featured... aim to expose the underlying forces of mass consumption and the underbelly of consumer culture."
Maybe I'm missing something, not that it much matters. If Salzinger -- a real South Florida visionary -- wants to think of the Art and Culture Center as a restaurant and herself as its manager, so be it. I want a standing reservation.
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