Look here, upon this picture: Alice Channer, Mari Eastman,
Marc Hundley and Amanda Ross-Ho
The group shows at Cherry and Martin are often a cut above the typical gallery group show fare. Instead of cooking up a facile excuse to throw a batch of sellable works together, their shows are more like Kunsthalle projects, aspiring to examine historical topics—as in their well-received 2011 re-staging of the landmark 1970 Photography into Sculpture exhibition—or to make thematic investigations with a deft curatorial touch, as with their current show, Look here, upon this picture.
The title is taken from Hamlet, and the press release posits that the show addresses “the elemental aspects of artmaking,” which includes representation, mark-making and the artist’s role as “receiver and transmitter of information.” This is of course an incredibly general set of ideas that could easily apply to a huge range of works and practices. The show’s success, however, lies in the subtle ways the individual works act as counterpoints to one another, and in the way their installation draws viewers into a space of intimacy with the artists.
Marc Hundley, A Woman Under the Influence, 2011; ink on paper; 12.5 in. x 16.5 in.; courtesy Cherry and Martin.
Much of the show’s initial seduction is accomplished by the mysterious and evocative prints of Marc Hundley, which present texts and images from popular culture that have had a personal resonance for the artist. But I can see, It’s not okay (2011) greets viewers immediately at the entrance: hand printed on a sheet of paper is a set of lyrics, in which someone wonders what another person is feeling, and is stymied as to how to respond. At the bottom Hundley wrote, “October 22, 1 North 12th St., David Bowie.”
The lyrics are presumably Bowie’s and they draw us in immediately. The date and location are left unexplained by Hundley and, as gallerist Mary Cherry explained to me, have something to do with the artist’s experience of the song. Meant to recall the format of concert posters, the mysterious notations in these works bring us to another level of engagement, perhaps reminding us of our own memories associated with particular songs. Other works in the show perform the same feat using a screen image of the actress Gena Rowlands, a photograph of a work by artist Reiner Ruthenbeck, a poem by Jerry Chadwick, and a photographic image accompanied by Smiths lyrics. Taken together, these prints present a scrapbook of personal memories, with each one held in place by a marker from popular culture.
Another great find in this exhibition is Alice Channer, a sculptor whose enchantingly inventive works take unexpected source materials and wrest them into striking new shapes. The best work in the whole show may well be Channer’s Shapers (I), (parts a, b, c) (2011), in which the artist took six long and crumpled sheets of paper, dipped them in ink and pinned them against a wall. They cut striking figures that appear to dance like solid ceramic exclamation points, but upon closer inspection, the soft ephemerality of the paper is a surprising touch.
In a witty piece titled Cigarette Pants (2012), Channer casts the circumference of a pair of cigarette pants and makes a set of aluminum rings out of them, hanging them on wood dowels so that they look like smoke rings. Sitting somewhere between assemblage and alchemy, Channer’s practice hinges on poetic translations from one medium to another.
Alice Channer, Cigarette Pants (purple) and Cigarette Pants (cream), 2012; cast and powder-coated aluminum and oak dowels, 2-part; 15 1/4 in. x 20 1/2 in. x 14 1/2 in.; courtesy Cherry and Martin.
Mari Eastman’s two small paintings are perhaps an expected element of the show in their exploration of mark-making. Serving as a grounding presence, My Interpretation of the 80s Aesthetic (It’s You Who’s Being Used) (2012) is a blotchy and colorful piece that indeed recalls the Neo-Expressionist tendencies of the 80s, but apparently for the purpose of critiquing its pandering to loud commercialism. In the lower right corner of the painting Eastman scrawled the words, “You can call it anything you like, but it’s you who is being used.”
Well-curated group shows can also create sympathy for works that would otherwise hold no appeal, and so it is with two large works by Amanda Ross-Ho, an artist whose practice I’ve always found annoying. Her works strike me as smug and uninspired arrangements of random detritus that serve to over-glorify the sanctity of the artist’s studio. However, in the context of this highly personal exhibition in which artists make various marks in idiosyncratic ways, Ross-Ho’s efforts come off less cavalierly than usual. They are in fact simply the traces of one more artist who receives and transmits.