I’ve lived on the outskirts of Bushwick now for the better part of three years. When I tell people that live in Manhattan where I live they get really excited, asking if I eat at Roberta’s. When I tell them I live off the Wilson L stop I get a confused look. That part of the neighborhood, southeast of Myrtle Avenue, has long been overlooked, and seems to escape the acclaim of the portion off the Jefferson and DeKalb L train. While I have always been thrilled that Bushwick Open Studios has an all-inclusive attitude, their anything goes policy seems to yield dodgier results the closer to Broadway Junction one gets. For those determined to see art in Bushwick off the beaten path, Outpost should be a staple. Outpost, which is better known as a nonprofit new media and video production facility for artists and filmmakers, has been organizing three to four exhibitions of visual arts at its Norman Street location. What’s so lovely about this space is that it seems centered around community and dialogue. The current exhibition, Hearts Gymnastics, curated by Yevgeniya Baras, is no exception.
Baras is one of the 13 artists who founded the Regina Rex gallery at 17-17 Troutman, in what has become one of the hubs of Bushwick Open Studios. As I walked into Outpost’s gallery a familiar sense of humor, collaboration, and messy abandon seemed to permeate the room. Baras herself offered up an installation of seven small-scale oil paintings. She sketches out her blocky, densely wrought abstractions on canvases that have been unstretched and reformulated, their stretchers, chopped, flipped, and otherwise incorporated into the compositions. This gives each piece a power that overreaches their small stature. They are luminous jewels with the scrappy rough-edged power of a welterweight boxer fighting way above his size. That’s not to say they are all equally successful. An untitled landscape, ringed in green gives us a a double image that appears to make reference to early American modernists like Arthur Dove but falls victim to an overwhelming sense of nostalgia and a sense of youthful nativity.
Melissa Brown’s “Beach Combing” (2013) is a surreal landscape saturated with color that seems too intense for our reality. Though the forms within the painting are clearly drawn from the landscape, they are presented here in outsized form. The whole image is free from context, giving it a seductive alien quality. There is a psychedelic mischief that lends the undulating waves of pink and blue (is this a close up of a roof?) an impression of instability. I can’t help but feel the ground shift beneath my feet. Her two-minute video “Shell Game” — also in the exhibition — translates the tension and jarring sense of the surreal found in her painting into a manic, vibrating mess of glorious color and sound.
The four works here by Anna Schacte seem too undeveloped. I want to like these paintings for their sense of playful adventure but they fail to stand up after more than a couple minutes of looking. There is certainly promise here and these painting would undoubtedly make more sense in a studio where they could be read as experiments or studies.
Jackie Tileston’s “Field Guide to Elsewhere” (2014) is an ethereal oil and spray-paint mishmash that conjures the good moments of a Paul Jenkins painting — if such a thing exists. Though sickly sweet, these sugary waves of smoke like color are saved by painstakingly painted moments of tightly packed, psychedelic abstraction. The result is like a genetically engineered op-art bacterium eating its way through the picture plane. This is bizarre stuff.
Four sculptures by Fabienne Lasserre were totally gripping. The artist combines a variety of materials including fabrics, steel, cardboard, and acrylic polymers with an economy of ease. The painterly surface of “AND” (2014) seems to defy gravity with geometric rigidity, only to melt into ravels of felt halfway through its apex. The low-lying walls of “It As” rest lazily on the gallery floor, and the imperfect, stucco like planes of white intersect in three planes of red black and blue — a sneaky, cheeky moment of impromptu color. The result feels like what might have happened if Piet Mondrian drunkenly mutated one of his paintings into a dada-esque architectural model.
Then there’s EJ Hauser’s large-scale oil painting, “More (three” (2014), which stretches itself out across his canvas in compact, furious moments of scrawled black line. Her painting is linear, floating somewhere between manic architecture and an anthropomorphic exuberance, like an etch-a-sketch come alive (think Disney’s Toy Story). Hauser’s compelling lines battle against themselves on a grid scribbling their way through energetically daubed overlays of red, blue, and yellow. This is an accomplished work, full of it’s own logic but also a feeling of question.
Though not all of the works in Hearts Gymnastics are entirely successful, the exhibition is stronger for its failures. There is a sense of inward looking exploration, of gritty determination, but also of whimsical humor. We are reminded that it is easy to make up an answer, the hard part is asking the right questions — this inquisitive energy unites all these artists. They share a sense of wonder, and the guts to ask questions regardless of what the answer might be.
Heart’s Gymnastics is curated by Yevgeniya Baras and continues at Outpost Artists Resource (1665 Norman Street, Ridgewood, Queens) until June 29.
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