Do you like your art hot or cool? A summer show at DCKT Contemporary brimming with youthful energy splits the difference, serving up a carte du jour of candy-colored formalism or post-neo-conceptual Pop, depending on how you look at it.
Matthew Craven, the young artist who curated the exhibition, calls it Acid Summer, which promises (quoting the gallery website) to take “a closer look at this psychedelic world in which we live.”
The show attempts to do this mainly through superheated abstraction and surrealism — which intersect more often than not — in a snazzy installation that’s so well integrated, with walls of hot yellow, juicy orange, powder blue and frosty white, that it works as a piece in itself.
Craven, who received his MFA from the School of Visual Arts in 2010, has gathered together a coterie of emerging artists, most born in the 1980s — and most, perplexingly, men. I’m not ordinarily a headcounter, but the dominance of Y-chromosomes in the lineup seems an oblivious throwback to yesteryear, a shortsightedness marring an otherwise highly enjoyable show.
All but a few of the artworks revel in jumpy, even clangorous color, and so it is intriguing that my eye was immediately drawn to Russell Tyler’s densely sober “Spectrum to Black” (2013), a 36-inch-square oil painting with an interior square of thickly applied warm black paint surrounded by a dusky blue border. Bricklike, equally crepuscular rectangles run along the bottom of the square, ranging across an abbreviated spectrum (as befits the title) from blacked-up magenta to muted mango sherbet.
Tyler’s painting, hung on a yellow wall that pushes its subdued colors to the fore like a funk bass solo, provides a much-needed anchor to a show that might come off as lightheaded without it. The canvas’s Calvinist rigor is offset by a lightly colored line around the black square, apparently squeezed from the tube, and by a few drips and blotches of slate-gray paint, mostly in the lower left quadrant.
While the line enlivens the picture’s formalism with painterly exuberance, the gray blotches undermine it, as if the artist were stepping away from the abyss he’s excavated. A monochromatic field need not be interrupted to maintain the viewer’s interest, especially one adjoined by such a subtly vibrant set of subsidiary colors.
Diagonally across the room, on a white wall, there is another rigorous abstraction touching on the spectrum, “Fuck Me Like U Hate Me” (2013) by Geoffrey Todd Smith. Done in acrylic, gouache and ink on panel, Smith’s painting is superficially more playful than Tyler’s — its scarlet ground overlaid by a network of ovals, which are in turn filled with a mesh of teardrop shapes created by alternating rows of zigzags and semicircles in colors that move in and out of the scarlet field via phases of orange, yellow, green, blue and violet.
Five monochromatic circles spanning the gray scale from black to white traverse the ovals lengthwise, their axes turned every which way like bees buzzing in a hive. These elements combine to create a locked-down, nonhierarchical composition that, despite the party colors, seethes with the pent-up aggression of its title.
Described in his bio as a self-taught artist, Eric Shaw seems to be channeling Joan Miró by way of Jim Nutt. His highly keyed gouache on paper, “Sculpture Comes Home” (2013), depicts a room with yellow and orange walls, not dissimilar to the ones in the gallery, and a mint green floor, all laid out in flat color with the simplicity of a child’s drawing, though much more precise.
A feverish-looking abstract painting hangs on the yellow wall and a door opens on the orange one, where an oversized, stylized head — presumably the sculpture coming home —hovers over the threshold.
I see a little of Jim Nutt in the polished tonal transitions and eccentric shapes of Michael Palladino’s “Untitled (slab)” (2012). This work, in watercolor and acrylic ink on paper, is as stylized as Shaw’s; it also engages, like Tyler’s and Smith’s, in some quick spectrum-leaping, with red, yellow and blue forms, studded with small dots, churning in and out of each other.
The blue is a little too cold for the forms to be viscera, and the red is too hot for them to be river currents, which were the first two associations I made. But like Shaw’s interior, “Untitled (slab)” is very precise in its ambiguities, and perhaps for this reason, along with their innate creepiness, these two works come the closest to touching on the “psychedelic world in which we live” cited on the gallery website.
But what’s so psychedelic about the world, really? It’s kaleidoscopic, perhaps; chaotic, certainly; but psychedelic? The task most of us face each day is not to deal with the quotidian psychedelic but the quotidian banal.
The works in this show seem to be mostly about what’s going on inside the artists’ heads. A few make a nod to the outside world, like Jee Kim’s “untitled 0” (2013), a grid-based abstraction made with correction tape on Plexiglas, that evokes the complex geometry of silicon chips, or Katie Cercone’s take on hip-hop — a limited-edition poster called “How to Make Rapper$ Fall in Love Wit U & Enter the Impossible Shiny Void” (2013).
Some artists convey a detached, Baldessarian remove. Both Vincent Troia’s “T-T-Tattered (shadooby)” (2012) — a bifurcated image with a news photo (scored and folded into a grid) showing pilgrims bathing in the Ganges River (or so I assume) on the top and rows of pink paper and tape underneath — and Louis Reith’s surrealist landscape, an untitled 2012 collage made from found book pages, exist in circumscribed realms that withhold more than they give.
Others seem to be having a blast with their materials: Cody Hoyt’s vaporous “MSS&S” (2012), a layered work in graphite, colored pencil and acrylic on collaged Mylar and paper, faces off with the artist’s own twisty, earth-toned untitled stoneware sculpture from 2013, which sits on a pedestal in the middle of the room, while the eye-peeling fuchsias, pinks, oranges, greens and blues in Ben Noam’s oil-and-enamel “Ivy League Summer” (2012) define acidic in more ways than one.
Failing elucidation, a term like “psychedelic” comes off as a bit of press release puffery to justify a cool title like Acid Summer. But cool titles don’t need justification: they pull you into their headspace through their associations or — if they’re really good, like Acid Summer — simply the sound of their words.
Acid Summer continues at DCKT Contemporary (21 Orchard Street, Lower East Side, Manhattan) through August 30.