Two group shows on The Lower East Side


I saw two group exhibits on the Lower East Side yesterday, one at Feature Inc. and the other at Steven Harvey Fine Art Projects, both of which offered multiple delights.

At Feature I was most struck by the large-scale cloth collages by Todd Knopke exhibited in the front portion of the gallery, sewn from scraps of fabric and various other materials. Greeting the viewer upon entering the gallery is ‘The Door’, measuring 108 x 96″. It ostensibly represents a garden formed from bits of floral imagery and abstract pattern against a large mostly black field with a series of brightly colored vertical and horizontal frames that create the echoing portal of the piece’s title. The overall impression is hallucinogenic. I’m reminded of some of Romare Bearden’s garden collages,  with a shared vision of cultivated nature opening to an otherworldly and magical realm. A possible ideational ancestor could be 19th century English Fairy paintings, though “The Door” is imbued with a self-awareness entirely of our time. Less literal than the typical fairy painting, the kitsch element is handled with an irreverent pleasure. There is a real joy for this viewer in the way Knopke elevates the banality of the mass-produced source material into something playfully transcendent. The aesthetic is slightly disheveled, humorous and vibrant containing as it does, little material surprises. One such is a black rubber slipper soul sewn into the upper left hand edge, as if the artist had lost his shoe while working on the piece and left it there lodged in the strange darkness of his garden-jungle world; or alternately as if this piece of space flotsam is all that remains of the last  cosmic traveler who took a trip through the garden door.

Todd Knopke, The Door, 2012

The group show at Steven Harvey, called Dark Matters, featured the work of five artists; Arthur Dove, Bill Jensen, Ellen Phelan, Andrea Belag and Ryan Cobourn, working at the noir end of the spectrum. The youngest of them, Cobourn, holds his own among the masters, with ‘Neighborhood’, a 46 x 52″ oil on canvas from 2011. The artist pits slithery paint against a vaguely geometric structure, presumably the neighborhood of the title, in a range of purple and green-grays with hints of something from the Cobalt Green family peeking from the lower layers of the paint. Scrapes are overlaid with slathers and topped with wet-in wet drawing in Raw Umber, Black and a few moments of wet-looking white. It is as if, after working all of a wet winter day, the painting reached fruition with the simultaneous arrival of dusk, both, a blue-gray murk. Across from this painting is a small painting by Jensen, Ape Hard VI, 2002-03, 26 x 20″. As his work often does this painting sits right at the edge of becoming or its opposite, dying, with vague iterations of figure, possibly an arm or some vertebrae.  This, eked out of an acidic and impossible color idea of reddish violet and deep piney green. I liked this piece as much or more than the Jensens showing currently at Cheim & Read and I was struck that the small scale is an extremely successful format for Jensen’s squeezing of form out of painterly abyss.

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