Cement Greenberg #2: Stories of Bullets and Gentleness
A bi-monthly collection of mixed exhibition reviews.
Sean Donovan: Praxis of Matter at M 2 3
In New York’s art scene which is overladen with painting M 2 3 has for years been an anomaly by showing exclusively sculpture. The concept is refreshing but does not hit the spot. The current show Praxis of Matter presents Sean Donovan’s new works—a herd of vessels on the ground and large monochromatic wall pieces. The press release hints that Donovan is worried about the environment as well as Texans owning guns. The issue with both the wall pieces and urns is that they seem to have been made with love for industrial materials and ammunition casings—the very thing Donovan attempts to critique. The wall pieces are cast fiberglass imitating pipes made for industrial purposes and playground slides with a flavor of pigment. Certainly, like any chunk of industrial material placed in the white cube, they are aesthetically pleasing. But by creating these works Donovan has added to the amount of fiberglass that already exists in the world, and even though it is not the most toxic material it does take over half a century to decompose. The only environmental impact I see is on our planet which unfortunately will take the fall for the survival of these sub-par works. The urns which are cast from brass ammunition casings collected in a gun shooting range (yes, the artist is upcycling!) also seem to be fetishized. The slight imperfection of the vessels is visibly forced. The black patina on the outside, which is supposed to resemble gunpowder, is contrived as it evokes misplaced nostalgia. It is rather difficult to understand why they have to take the shape of an urn, ornate and beautiful objects that both stand the test of time but also carry death. We do not need another sleek reminder that the status quo on guns and the environment remains. Let me point out that without guns there are no bullets.
Lyric Shen: Promise’s Room at Silke Lindner
Lyric Shen’s second solo show in New York is a clever and gentle collection. Most of the works are softly imperfect rectangular ceramic pieces, carrying images imprinted with water-transferred ink. An especially touching one is Rosy Together, a shy self-portrait with a lover. According to the press release, the picture is an iPhone selfie. Shen leans their face into their lover’s neck who curiously is looking into the camera. Similarly to the way they released agency over that photo, Shen seems to trust chance in their body of work wholly. The surfaces are bubbly and unevenly covered, the colors are somewhat pastellic and soothing, no spot is totally dark or bright. The show is hung with much space in between each work, allowing them to shine as individual pieces while also creating context as a series. Each is placed slightly differently in terms of height, alerting the visitor that decisions have been made with care. Atlantic Avenue: Pine, Bamboo, Plum is a sculpture made from a found slim front bumper of a car. The stiff airy form is covered—yet again—with a print of gentle colors, there’s some illegible text, too. The work is refreshing, and spending time with it charged me with tenderness and curiosity.
Mark Van Yetter: The Politics of Charm at Bridget Donahue
Mark Van Yetter’s exhibition tells a narrative that is impossible to follow. A 20-part series of same-size paintings in identical frames tell the story in complex visual code. Each painting is divided into an upper and lower panel. Each panel is divided into three separate images, one in the center, which is unique, and two on the sides, which are the same. Despite my inability to find a plotline, it is clear that the work knows its essence, so to speak. Van Yetter’s visual language is light and delicate, aware of its hand painted-ness. The series is symbolically rich and highly engaging. A human-sized fish on a chair, a miniature backward-facing human skull inside of a shadowy head, a mother and child excitedly looking at penguins in the zoo. Each situation is loaded, yet contained, sandwiched between the two other images. The paint is applied lightly, and the crayons bring in delicate but organized lines in happy colors. The work is intelligent in its lightheartedness and recognition of the darker sides of the human psyche. Bridget Donahue often presents exhausting shows. This one is a relief.
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