Installation view of “Step and Repeat” at the Toomer Labzda Gallery in New York’s Lower East Side (all photos courtesy Toomer Labzda Gallery)

Last week I had the pleasure of checking out Step and Repeat at Toomer Labzda gallery on Forsyth Street in the Lower East Side. The space is new, and this is their first attempt at a group show. As I’ve written before, I am often skeptical of the whole commercial gallery thematic show thing. I was pleasantly surprised by the exhibit, which features the artwork of Marin Abell, Ivin Ballen, Alisa Baremboym and Leah Dixon. The first thing I realized when I walked into the gallery was how much I love small spaces. I think that gallery goers often take the large caverns in Chelsea for granted. I for one, find it difficult to actually be reflective in Gagosian or Pace. Instead I rush around on their polished concrete floors like a wanton six year old lost in his parents snack cupboard, gorging and sampling, but always short of reflection. On the flip side, the physical constraints of Toomer Labzda gallery are pretty extreme, it’s super tiny, but the husband and wife team have put that to good use. In a one room gallery there is nowhere to hide weak ideas, or b-list artworks.

Works by Alisa Baremboym (left to right) “Cleaning Companion 5” (2011), “Seasoned 3” (2011) and “Platinum” (2011).

The four artists in the show are united by a playful relationship with craft and perception. The exhibition functions almost like a rebus, full of tender complexity beneath a simple, brash veneer. Abell’s singular video work is, at first glance, a sassypants Dada-inspired performance. If you let the thing play a couple times though, you realize that his megaphone zip line experiments are actually about constructing and defining sound, fleeting aural sculptures. At first glance I found this piece supremely annoying, but after a couple go arounds, a logic and rhythm emerges.

Alissa Beremboym’s three “paintings” read like a sort of confusing triptych. At first glance they come off as flat, brushy, painty abstractions. Looking a little closer they behave like rouge Ikea prints. The artist makes paintings, scans them and Photoshops them, overlaying found photographs to create a mash up of reference and direct artistic action. Her print “Platinum” overlays the same brushstrokes from the painting next to it, “Seasoned 3,” onto a photographic bed of platinum blond hair, conflating the whimsy of the hand with that of the found object. I’m not totally sure about these, they are funny and they weird me out, but I think that’s healthy. There is formal detail, but also an instance, like my aforementioned 6 year old, kicking and screaming and yelling “mommy look what I did.”

Ivin Ballen, Untitled (clay, subduction deposits), (2011)

Ivin Ballen’s ramshackle constructions have the tone of DIY abstraction. Their glorious tape lines, padded bulges and hand painted tetris blocks are like a neon sleeping bag for your eyes. At first glance these constructions ooze an enthusiastic, sloppy abandon. Though they project the ethos of devil may care trash art, they are actually cast in resin and painstakingly painted to resemble the tape, paper and padding on which he models each piece. They are sculptures of collage, like Barenboym they echo the original in a way that gains volume. What’s great about these pieces is that they shift in front of you, from sloppy, to cold and calculated, to something in the middle.

leah dixon, minigun, (2011)

Though, relatively straight forward in comparison, tapestries by Leah Dixon similarly transmute common perceptions about traditional methods of art making. Her woven wall hangings depict the imagery of violence so common in the 24-hour news cycle with woven yoga mats. They read like Afgani rugs of war, a facsimile of traditional craft and its imagined pollution by the visual fallout of armed conflict. If you’ve ever walked around Park Slope during the day, bright purple and blue yoga mats are clearly visible. In fact, I can’t stare at the material without thinking about would be serene yuppy types. That tension, between material and content, is what defines this exhibition. Honestly, I walked into the space and thought, “oh, I’m hot and cramped, and this looks silly.” It was only after sitting for a couple of minutes to cool my heals, that the haunting, complex nature of things began to emerge. That is how I will remember it, a reminder to look more closely, that like Dixon’s yoga mats, our visual and artistic culture often requires more time than we give it.

Step and Repeat is on view at Toomer Labzda Gallery (100 Forsyth, Lower East Side, Manhattan) until November 6th.