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Stepping off the L at the Morgan stop on Friday afternoon, the first thing I saw was two girls lugging giant canvases across the platform; just outside, there’s a pair of white humanoid busts surrounded by cans of spray paint, seemingly inviting passerby to contribute. The main event may be over the weekend, but Bushwick was clearly ready for the beginning of this year’s Open Studios.
My early arrival early had some perks: my first stop, Luhring Augustine Bushwick, is completely empty, and Tom Friedman’s brightly colored pieces popped all the more forcefully in the gallery’s hushed atmosphere. On display is Friedman’s new show, Paint and Styrofoam, which includes hanging sculptures and wall works made entirely from, you guessed it, paint and Styrofoam. This premise turns out to be less of a limitation than an opportunity to create art that is at once gorgeous and disposable — its humble origins undermining its highbrow aura.
Simplicity is the order of the day here — each piece (with one exception) is monochromatic, and most of them focus on a single repeating motif. An orange painting consists entirely of small brushstrokes moving out from the center, like a cross between a sunburst and a Gerber daisy, while a taupe work is marked solely by paint cracks that get large as you move down the piece, evoking the dried out soil of a desert. These quasi-landscapes blur the lines between natural and artificial, serving as both representations of the physical world and commentary on the arbitrariness of such representations. Others of these “sculptures of paintings” play off of art historical antecedents, with Freidman rendering “The Starry Night” all in black and crafting an Impressionist-style self-portrait in yellow. There is a kind of obviousness to these pieces, but it gives them an appealing immediacy.
My next stop, Storefront Ten Eyck, provides an intense counterpoint to the minimalism of Freidman’s work. The gallery’s new show Inhabiting Ten Eyck begins from the moment you enter the room: two pieces by Devon Dikeou — a set of three rolodexes and a pair of vases, one with business cards and the other with candy — sit right on the receptionist’s desk. Curator Karin Bravin set out to use all the available space and, in doing so, has created an environment that is simultaneously inviting and claustrophobic. Lines weave and run, framing windows and twirling around posts. Elizabeth Riley’s disorienting installation “FUTURE HOME” (2014) fills an entire hallway with neon filmstrips, marked-up stories, and misshapen pantyhose dolls, and a tiny back room houses Julie Schenkelberg’s “Reflection Entity” (2014),which resembles a stolen corner of Miss Havisham’s house, except with electricity. Light streams down from a skylight to illuminate the center of Rachel Mica Weiss’ v-shaped thread installation, “Six-Planed Scaffolding.” In fact, the room is so packed that I was constantly in danger of bumping into something.
As striking as the arrangement is as a whole, the individual pieces feel less vital. Pieces like Julie Evans’ “Creeper” (2014) and Dave Eppley’s “Slack” (2014) do an excellent job of filling space, but feel purely ornamental. The exception is Etty Yaniv’s intricate “At that moment all spaces change” (2014), a three-dimensional collage that layers sketches, parchment paper, and photographs, creating a long paper storm cloud by sheer accumulation. Small flashes of color jump out like sparks of lightning.
From Ten Eyck, I headed south to Silver Projects, which is sandwiched between a Chinese restaurant and a money order place in the far less trendy part of Bushwick. Hidden on the third floor of HOTEL, the tiny gallery is dedicated to showcasing work done on film, and its new show, Photographs 2, includes images from three artists who are using very different processes to comment on the depth of photographic space. Michelle McLaughlin’s deceptively simple cyanotypes evoke the primordial power of biology — they might be nests or ameobas, but wither way, you get the sense there’s something ready to burst forth from within. Coleman Downing’s more traditional gelatin print landscapes also attempt to signal at something larger with their aggressive simplicity. Unfortunately, the images’ uniform grayness renders them rather flat — only the simplest, a shot of water and volcanic rock, gestures towards greater depths.
Last, but certainly not least, is Erin O’Keefe, whose process combines sculpture, collage, and photography to create gorgeous, layered images that play with the unreality of the artistic space. O’Keefe has an unerring eye for light and lines — the careful geometry of her constructions sucks you into their world, where everything, even the laws of physics, is malleable.
Heading back down the stairs, I pass artists opening their studios and people chatting animatedly about the art surrounding them — a reminder that the weekend is just beginning.
Tom Friedman: Paint and Styrofoam continues at Luhring Augustine Bushwick (25 Knickerbocker Ave, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn) until August 8.
Inhabiting Ten Eyck is curated by Karin Bravin and continues at Storefront Ten Eyck (324 Ten Eyck St., Ground Floor, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn) until June 29.
Photograph 2 continues at Silver Projects (796 Broadway, 3rd Floor, Bushwick, Brooklyn) until June 29.