Art

Fiercely Independent Abstraction for Idiots

Installation view of "Idiot's Delight" at Janet Kurnatowski in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, with artist Elisa Soliven's plaster sculpture in the center (all images by the author)

Janet Kurnatowski has run her gallery out of the ground floor of 205 Norman Avenue in Greenpoint for the last seven years. There is something both welcoming and powerful about her modest space. The finished plywood and low ceiling are a welcome environment; a spacious hobbit hole for art. The owner’s earthy dedication to her craft seems to radiate throughout the space. The current exhibition Idiot’s Delight was curated by Craig Olson, one of the gallery’s artists.

For the press release he writes:

Respect the Elders. 
Embrace the New. 
Encourage the Impractical and Improbable, 
Without Bias.

The venerable magus of the airwaves, Vin Scelsa, utters these commandments to us every Saturday night and we listen. What the artists represented in this show do is a potent elucidation of these vital decrees. Theirs is like nothing else to be found anywhere — the radio, the television, or even the Internet for that matter. It’s an idiot’s delight, blowing like a circle around our skulls, blowing through the buttons of our coats. It carries and encourages us to seek these improbable ends, the conception and the increase. The soul of an idiot is always dancing on the end of her tongue, even when fools rush in. It reminds us of the impractical veracity that love truly is a many splendid thing, and life is brief!

Left, a work by Katherine Bradford and right, a painting by Thomas Micchelli.

This exhibition is a love poem of sorts, an ode to those who spend their days in the studio. Old skool Brooklyn artists like Jim Clark and Chris Martin hang their work proudly next to young up-and-comers like Elisa Soliven. The resulting installation is less about a unified aesthetic than a kind of rugged independence.

Chris Martin's "Protection for Amy Winehouse” (nd)

As per usual, Chris Martin proves he is still the reigning hippy-artist king of Brooklyn. His large-scale abstracts have always felt effortless to me. His piece “Protection for Amy Winehouse” with its paint crusted and bejeweled surface is both crunchy and unexpected. The surface of Martin’s painting is rough and tumble, like the artist himself, it pulls no punches, but goes straight for the throat. The resulting surface is weathered and gnarled; a well-used map. Like scars, his whorls of paint point to rupture and violence, but also to the summing of experience.

Soliven’s white tomb of plaster vibrates unsteadily on its pink vitrine, surrounded by a somewhat teenage pile of leaves. I feel restless, the calm air swept by some invisible breeze. Like Martin, Soliven’s piece speaks to the past shimmering with latent energy. Across the room, Jim Clarke’s sculpture from 1988 (the only piece in the exhibition not completed in the last two years) smiles knowingly. His is a well worn tapestry of found material, dry wit and sincerity.

Perhaps the most fascinating contrast in the exhibition comes between Clarke’s aggressive tower and a large scale canvas by Tamara Gonzales. Her pink and magenta abstraction is a sort of domestic graffiti stencil. A record of textiles the artist has found memorialized in jubilant layers of spraypaint. Both pieces speak of reappropriation and abstraction. It would be hard to find more a more disparate comparison in the entire exhibition, yet there is a certain common dialog, a sense of humor and impracticality. Tom Micchelli, a large work by EJ Hauser and an ultra casual Katherine Bradford depiction of Superman, provided a sympathetic figurative ear to the otherwise abstracted medley of voices.

Standing next to these pieces I feel anything but resolved. Like ancient machinery laid to rest but never switched off, they hum and squeak from the walls in a half-translatable chorus. I feel the frustrating hint of recognition. The noise buzzing in my ears is a bedside love song composed for a chosen few. I am in the middle of an artist’s party, not one that celebrates the object itself, but rather the hulking beauty of that creative endeavor. In an era of fast food, the slow cooked approach has never held more appeal.

Idiot’s Delight runs at Janet Kurnatowski Gallery (205 Norman Avenue, Greenpoint, Brooklyn) until December 18th.

comments (0)