Curious Matter’s current show, Aesthetic Insubordination, is modest but rewarding. Organized by Virginia-based artist Travis Childers, the exhibition features five artists who find inspiration in common domestic materials, like razor blades, buttons, and flannel. The work is labor intensive, and the hand of the artist is always present. Part of the show’s appeal is the gallery itself — an Italianate-style parlor room located in a private residence. Exhibition space is limited (it’s a 12-foot square). I love how the art agrees with the homey décor — hardwood floors, crown molding, and stone fireplace.
My favorite artists in the show were Donna Stack, Susan Noyes, and Jessica Braiterman. Each artist was able to repurpose a familiar material (or set of materials) into a distinctive object. Korea meets “white trash” USA in Donna Stack’s pair of contemporary hanboks. The hanbok is the traditional Korean dress, often characterized by simple lines, bold colors, and volume. Stack swaps vibrant colors and silk for Cold War-era US camouflage, denim, and flannel. When I was a kid in suburban New Jersey during the early 1980s, the only people whom I saw wearing this pattern of camouflage were degenerate loons and hunters. It’s a dynamic collision between cultural forces. This work packs geopolitical heat. The recent North Korean nuclear tests cast a foreboding shadow over these garments. I’d love to see Stack design an entire fashion line that fuses American hillbilly and Korean haute couture.
Susan Noyes’s large wall hangings walk a fine line between Islamic mosaics and Amish textiles. There’s visual punch, but it’s soft … kind of. Her choice of medium — heavy-duty utility blades — is plain but effective. Her pieces are a great example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts. At first glance, the work is an undulating grey field. But on closer inspection, plant and animal patterns begin to emerge. What I find intriguing about this work is how she balances ornamentation and being understated.
Jessica Braiterman’s “Aurora” confounded me. This work is lo-fi, more so than the other artists. At first, I dismissed it as little more than buttons and wire and vowed not to look at the work again. Due to the limited size of the gallery (144-sq-ft), I could not, entirely, avoid it. No matter what object I looked at, this mass of buttons and wire would impede my peripheral vision. But the more I engaged this whirling mass of detritus, the more I enjoyed it, as it seemed to morph into a luminous constellation, a tangled mass of hair, and an amorphous sea creature. I appreciate how she transformed stuff that is usually found on floors and carpets into a whirling Calder-esque mobile.
Curious Matter offers viewers a momentary reprieve from our chaotic world. This show is worth the 15-minute PATH ride to Jersey City. Along the way, grab a cup of coffee at Dames on Jersey Ave.
Aesthetic Insubordination continues at Curious Matter (272 Fifth Street, Jersey City, New Jersey) till April 14.
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