Galleries

I Am Underemployed and Underwhelmed

by Howard Hurst on December 10, 2011

An installation by Brian Belott in "Underemployed" at Zurcher Studio in NoHo, Manhattan (all images by the author)

I’ve always been told to go with my gut reaction. Sometimes you have to commit to the thing, whether you are curating an art show or chasing a fat kid down a black diamond on rusty skies. Impact should never replace nuance, but sometimes you need to punch the bully in the face before he jacks your lunch money.

On Saturday I visited Underemployed at Zurcher Studio on Bleecker Street. I read the press release for the show and got excited. First of all, the show is curated by an artist, Josh Blackwell. The premise of the show hinges on Oscar Wilde. His quote from The Decay of Lying: An Observation gives Blackwell’s exhibition form:

“The ancient historians gave us delightful fiction in the form of fact; the modern novelist presents us with dull facts under the guise of fiction.”

One of Josh Blackwell's series of "Plastic Baskets"

When art is forced to conform to reality, society or any packaged set of norms, it suffers. I buy this hook line and sinker. I live in New York so I can go see art, I do this for the same reason that sometimes I sit in my room and drink 40s of malt liquor; so that, honestly, I can meditate on bullshit.

In that free floating, euphoric space we are allowed to reflect, to imagine and dream and are ultimately called back to the world. “A spoon full of sugar makes the medicine go down.” I agree. Sometimes being sensible is awful, paying attention can be stifling and unnecessary. But then again sometimes it helps you avoid being an idiot. Love it or hate it, actions have consequences, words and paintings all boomerang back somewhere.

This exhibition read like a whimsical poem scrawled in the margins, a crafty oozy woozy bit of prose. The overall tone was subversive and melancholy. Unfortunately, melancholy and subversive doesn’t always mean successful. By all means please use materials that no one else wants to use, make art from trash, rebuild cities with palettes and recycled plastic. If you want to do these things, mean it and look like you mean it.

Rochelle Feinstein's silver and gold shower curtain

The art in this exhibition tickled my fancy and my funny bone, but I’m not sure that much of it stood up on its own. That sucks, because I wanted it to. A majority of it owes so much to craft that it feels, if anything, a bit helpless. Come on, throw a couple of punches. Blackwell’s embroidered plastic bags felt like hallmark tea cozies. I like tea cozies. Rochelle Feinstein has endowed the space with a silver and gold shower curtain portal to another world. I loved it … but then it felt shiny and weird. There is definitely a train in the station, I’m just not sure if it has enough juice to get me where I want to go or if the conductor has a map.

Underemployed is on view at Zurcher Studio (33 Bleecker Street, Noho, Manhattan) until January 20, 2012.

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