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Sometimes art happens by accident, like teenage pregnancy. On occasion the mishap can be fortuitous. Consider Duchamp’s sculpture “The Large Glass,” which occurred by chance when two glass panels were shattered in transit. Duchamp glued it back together, securing the shattered glass between two new panes. For more than 50+ years, the work (cracks and all) has been on permanent view in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and continues to cause speculation and wonder.
With Duchamp sitting on their shoulders, curators Julian Calero and Kris Graves have organized a curious group exhibition, titled Separation, which is now on view at Small Black Door gallery in Ridgewood, Queens. Artists Jonathan Terranova and Matthew Mahler founded the space in late 2010.
The work on view ranges from the traditional (painting, sculpture, photography) to the enigmatic (accumulated residue from discarded scratch card). Despite the structural limitations of the venue, the installation gives all the art room to breathe, with the mood of the show being Chelsea-cum-Queens.
The show, according to Calero’s exhibition statement, is “derived from noticing process-related byproducts and scraps at studio visits, which themselves struck me as unintended works of art.” Presenting an artist’s studio detritus or discarded trials can provide a window to their creative process. Unfortunately, the curators felt the need to expand upon their original idea to address themes of alienation and dissolution. To be frank, I think the show cut itself off at the knees once it leapt into psychobabble.
That being said, the show possesses an odd charm, and I found parts of the installation successful. Some of the work is more intriguing than others. Standouts include Andrew Zarou, Adam Taye and Rob de Oude.
In 1995 in Athens, Georgia, Andrew Zarou began collecting miscellaneous ephemera off the street. He continues this practice today in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. I am not sure if it is art or an affliction, like cluttering and hoarding. For this show, he displayed his collection of 66 glass jars, which contain an assortment of detritus, i.e., dead mice, fishing lures, broken cell phones, petrified insects. The jars were arranged on a makeshift shelving unit, which he built for the show. The installation reminded me of the canned stillborn fetuses in the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia.
Like my father who loved to bet on the ponies, Adam Taye likes to gamble. His sculpture, “Daydream Residue” (2010), is a stack of used, scratch cards. Pinned to the wall above the pile of cards is a clear plastic baggie, containing scratch card silt. I am not sure if this object is a memorial sculpture, an ode to lost dreams or a stack of old cards. What ever it is, I like it.
Artist Rob de Oude has several works in the show, which is more than any other artist. In one work, he presented three glass cubes, which house blobs of oil paint scraped from his painting palette. The cubes were presented on a small niche, which was cut out from the wall like a window. Though tiny, the niche also served as frame to house a flat screen video, which documented a site-specific installation by de Oude in McCarren Park.
I do not know if the decision to pair the paint blobs and the video was arbitrary or not. I did admire the decision to utilize the niche, though. To me, this was an example of the curators embracing the odd layout of the basement, which is evidence of their resourcefulness.
De Oude’s most successful work in the show is his painting, “Indication Downward (mural #6)” (2011). Like a black light Led Zeppelin poster or a Bridget Riley painting, the work is a psycho-physiological freak out. Bright consecutive lines crisscross over a black field, which begin to pulsate and wriggle. To be honest, I have no idea what this painting has to do with the theme of the show.
The curatorial selection of artwork is what I found most problematic. The show featured to many resolved pieces, which had little to do with the theme of the show. I believe the curators would have been more successful if they stayed true to the shows original intention. I wonder what the show might have looked like if it presented painting tools and supplies, drawings, sketches, unfinished paintings and canvas fragments.
That being said, Small Black Door is a unique space, which offers curators and artist countless opportunities to transform a no-frills basement in Ridgewood into a dynamic visual experience.