A Strange Scene of Star Cats and Astronomy

Matthew Dutton, "Hadron Excelsior" (2014), mixed media
Matthew Dutton, “Hadron Excelsior” (2014), mixed media, in Stephen Romano Gallery’s ‘Mysterium Cosmographicum’ (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted)

From a new space in Dumbo’s 111 Front Street building, Stephen Romano Gallery is offering a unique mix of art that’s contemporary, historic, and unapologetically strange. The second exhibition, Mysterium Cosmographicum, takes the cosmos as its theme, from the mysteries of outer space to the divine impressions given off by distant stars.

Order of Odd Fellows antique banner
Order of Odd Fellows antique banner

The new gallery location opened back in April with the inaugural group show Welcome to Dreamtime. Mysterium Cosmographicum is similar in that its more than 30 international artists cover just about every shade of the spectrum, from emerging artists to self-taught visionaries to 17th-century scholars. Sharp-toothed grinning cats by Barcelona-based pop surrealist Peca gaze with their moon eyes over a beautiful copy of Romeyn de Hooghe’s arcane symbolism guide “Heiroglyphica of Merkbeelden der oude volkeren” from 1735, while nearby a skull-adorned Order of Odd Fellows banner offers some beautiful texture in its unraveling threads.

By nature of an exhibition with a scope like this, there are highs and lows, but enough intriguing old oddities and trippy new art to warrant a wander. Sure, Vancouver-based Phresha’s “Mind Control Kitty,” which turns Grumpy Cat into a mystical icon, is a little silly, but it also offers an enjoyable counterpart to “Cure: Universal Will,” a painted plaster piece by the self-taught A. Fiorello that shows people burning in the stomach of a three-headed, humanoid beast. Gallery owner Stephen Romano explained that Fiorello’s work was totally unknown during his lifetime, and some of it ended up in second-hand stores, likely unsettling donation sorters with its dark, vivid symbolism.

Phresha, "Mind Control Kitty" (2014), acrylic on board
Phresha, “Mind Control Kitty” (2014), acrylic on board
A. Fiorello, "Cure: Universal Will" (date unknown), painted plaster
A. Fiorello, “Cure: Universal Will” (date unknown), painted plaster

Then there are the anonymous and scientific depictions of astronomy, including 1813 star drawings and a detail of a human footprint on the moon. Meanwhile, the contemporary art pops with unexpected imagery, like Italian artist El Gato Chimney’s paintings of animals as hermits and shamans, as well as Brooklyn-based Martin Wittfooth’s unnerving vision of conquering monkeys setting a horse’s mane aflame.

This October, Stephen Romano Gallery will dedicate the whole space to Hollywood photographer William Mortensen, who also had a penchant for shooting staged scenes of witchcraft with a heavy mix of grotesque sensuality. It will be interesting to see how the spirit of embracing the eccentric corners of art is manifested in a solo show as the gallery continues to inject the esoteric into Dumbo.

El Gato Chimney, "Hermit of the Stars" (2014), acrylic on canvas; "The Catcher" (2014), acrylic on canvas
El Gato Chimney, “Hermit of the Stars” (2014), acrylic on canvas; “The Catcher” (2014), acrylic on canvas
Martin Wittfooth "The Passions Sacrifice" 2013
Martin Wittfooth, “The Passions Sacrifice” (2013) (image courtesy Stephen Romano Gallery)
Colin Christian, "Half Pint" (2014), mixed media sculpture
Colin Christian, “Half Pint” (2014), mixed-media sculpture
Kris Kuksi, "Seraphim at Rest" (2013), mixed media sculpture
Kris Kuksi, “Seraphim at Rest” (2013), mixed-media sculpture
Romeyn de Hooghe, "Hieroglyphica of Merkbeelden der oude volkeren" (1735)
Romeyn de Hooghe, “Hieroglyphica of Merkbeelden der oude volkeren” (1735)
Peca "Hopi Dream - Miracle" 2014
Peca, “Hopi Dream – Miracle” 2014 (image courtesy Stephen Romano Gallery)

Mysterium Cosmographicum continues at Stephen Romano Gallery (111 Front Street, Suite 208, Dumbo, Brooklyn) through August 30. 

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