Damien Roach, “Untitled (screen/filter) red” (2012), wire-suspended transparent red perspex, 48 x 96 in

This summer the heat has been unrelenting. Normally pleasant city streets are full of the unremembered stench of garbage and the lingering caress of warm smog. It is in these moments that we are least likely to romanticize New York, or any other major city. It brings out the crotchety critic in all of us. I find myself with little willingness for the suspension of disbelief. Maybe, like the overheated Bikram yoga, it is an unnecessary constraint that focuses one’s mind into determination. Last weekend, while rummaging through the Lower East Side what I needed was a life boat, something to transport my mind away from the sticky, forsaken confines of my sweat drenched body. What I got was Someone Has Stolen Our Tent at Simon Preston Gallery.

Frank Heath, “Former Structure” (2012) (foreground)

The exhibition brings together four artists who transmute the relatively mundane and every day into a wry daydream. Upon entering the gallery a deep, red sheet of Plexiglas hangs across the entrance to the space, blocking a direct entrance and coloring its contents a rosy red. This piece belongs to the artist Damien Roach. Roach’s other piece in the exhibition is equally situational. A two-way mirror hangs diagonally, half obscuring two black and white prints, one of a sliced orange, the other a close up of marble. The mirrored surface obscures each image until one is standing directly in front of it, instead reflecting the rosy red lens hovering in front of the entrance. The forced perceptual shift that Roach hoists upon gallery visitors are admittedly quite aggressive. However overt of a gesture the screens might be, they invite a careful investigation of the rest of the exhibition. In fact, standing in front of the two way mirror, watching light play gently off the surface of Roach’s prints, one gets a sense that they are suggestive stand-ins for visual memory. We are reminded of the importance of context, and the changing significance of even the most banal image or object. In this light, the grain of orange flesh and marbled stone reach out beyond the confines of the cheap prints and join themselves to the system of memory and judgment so particular to each one of us.

Steven Baldi, “Announcement” (2012), acrylic, ink and pencil on canvas,40 x 28 in

Steven Baldi’s acrylic painting on canvas is an equally overt nod to the systems that govern our lives, in this case the reference is to presumably those systems that govern information and taste. His reproductions of promotional fliers and email blasts make a hefty a nod to the conceptual art of artists like John Baldasarri or Allan McCullum. His green and tan painting reproduces Simon Preston’s eblast for this exhibition. I have a feeling I am supposed to be thinking about the financial and social structures of the art world. Instead I stand in the gallery space musing about how fleeting these exhibitions can be. Rather than overt political sentiment, I can’t but help feel overcome with an inexplicable nostalgia.

Damien Roach, “Untitled (screen / filter) two way mirror” (2012), wire-suspended see through mirrored Perspex ,48 x 96 in and Damien Roach, Equation (sliced orange, marble close-up), 2012, laminated inkjet print, each: 46.7 x 33.1 inches

As the tired hot sun begins to set, casting a faint red glow on the gallery walls, it might be easy to trip over Frank Heath’s understated sculpture, “Former Structures.” The work sits, sawn in half, on the floor of the gallery space. Though at first unrecognizable, the sculpture is actually a replica of a coin collecting tray from a former bank. Heath researched and found the object, created a reproduction of it in white, sawed it in half and mailed half of it to the obsolete address. Now returned to sender, this second half sits in one corner, held together with packing  tape.  One can’t help glancing from one half to the other, imagining a grand banking hall full of disgruntled patrons and employees. While I wonder if it is even possible to feel nostalgic for a place such as this, I understand that it is in our power to long for even the sterile halls of commerce. Battered back and forth between the pristine and broken halves of his sculpture, Heath has constructed a space for memory while also forging the device of its destruction: a before and after shot of a place we never knew we cared to remember in the first place.

Zak Kitnick, “The Main Kitchen” (2012), unfinished steel and cold rolled steel, 64.5 x 991 x 14.5 inches and Zak Kitnick, American Ships, 2012, direct-to-substrate print on unfinished steel shelving, 47.5 x 28.5 x 1.25 in

Zach Kitnick’s sculpture dominates the back of the gallery; jawed cubic rectangle of complex, interwoven, geometric patterns is forged from the angle ironed body of an industrial bookshelf. On the wall next to it is his version of a painting. A billboard print on canvas renders an old commercial poster of fruit — the likes of something you might find, hung crooked, on the wall of an old deli. The surface is adorned with the diamond lattice of cut vinyl. The result: we see the body of functional objects deconstructed and aestheticized. This reconfigured language, stemming as it does from useful, everyday items, is surprisingly beautiful and exotic.

While the exhibition’s press release highlights how each artist plays with perception, it is their shared sense of off balance nostalgia that unites and defines these four artists. What we find amidst this room of strange, perception shifting objects is an unexpected beauty. Like a room full of imaginary stolen glances, the results are unexpected. I imagine, as I wander around the space, that the world has ended.

In my old age, amid the rusted signs, and fallow crumbling streets, perhaps I would miss these things; gaze fondly at the yellowing sheet of an art world flyer, muse ruefully at a discarded shopping bag, bank tray or shipping pallet. Perhaps I would ignore the sunset and instead yearn for the comforting memory of the everyday, caught in the glare of a storefront window.

Someone Has Stolen Our Tent continues at Simon Preston Gallery  (301 Broome Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through August 4.

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