19 March 2017 07:22AM
The deconstructive text that introduces the work of five fearsome female artists at Kristen Dodge’s September gallery on Warren Street focuses on ways in which art may—or may not—reveal supernatural forces.
A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to participate in a two-and-a-half hour long panel at a gallery in Brooklyn, that strived to elicit how the Void—or at least the concept of “void”—is depicted in art. My first thought in approaching this subject was, to state the obvious, that nothing could hardly be represented as something. But then, of course, if as Buddhism teaches, emptiness and form have the same nature, why shouldn’t something represent nothing?
In classical and popular art, transcendental concepts are typically represented by symbols or motifs that serve as ciphers in which meaning is encrypted, usually for the benefit of the uninitiated. Thus, Christians recognize angels when they see them depicted and, even if they’re not quite sure what they are, imbue them with a certain meaning. But if a viewer has, for example, never heard of an angel, he or she might mistake the cherubs above the nativity scene in Rogier van der Weyden’s altarpiece as flying babies—creatures that have no correspondence to normal experience—and thus make no sense of the painting. Wherein lies the peril of attempting to render the non-physical in any form or fashion.
While Susan Aberth’s unusually well-written and intelligent text provides an excellent basis for understanding the intentions of the five artists in the new September show, it is unlikely that in its absence a viewer would grock the subtext to these admittedly accomplished works. This, however, is not to detract from the variety of visual treats and curatorial consistency that flourishes there.
The decidedly eccentric artist (Marjorie) Cameron (1922–1995) was an acolyte of the apocalyptic occultist Aleister Crowley, who mined every symbol in the book to construct an elaborate and bizarre cosmology. Her four ink drawings here, representing shamanic themes, while as obscure and fantastical as Crowley’s writing itself, manage to exhibit a refreshingly fluid restraint and charm. She’s no slouch.
Nor is Marianne Vitale, a world-class sorcerer. The charred texture and looming presence of her conspiratorial floor sculpture, “Very Fine Gander”, reveals itself as a giant child’s toy that no child would dare go near. Vitale’s work is always dangerous and foreboding, but just as playful.
Laurel Sparks’ and Rosy Keyser’s complex canvasses are based on grids of unfathomable parameters, which is where Aberth’s elucidation should come in handy: respectively “powerful in their unreadable density” and “instigating a host of Pagan associations” that I confess escaped me. Ms Keyser’s “Terrestrial Mime”, however—whatever it might intend—is an impressive, outsize piece of bricolage that dominates the walls of the show.
The admixture is rounded out by another scarily over-toasted floor sculpture, of bowls and stuff, by Anna Betbeze, a modern-day Beelzebub herself, as well as a quite revoltingly stained flokati wall-hanging, about both of which, Aberth asks what “is always the basic and perplexing question—what are these things?” Well, make of them what you will.
Since Zach Feuer closed his Retrospective gallery, September has boldly taken on the task of introducing brave, unfamiliar work to Hudson. If there is a magical element to it, even if it teeters on the edge of incomprehension, no harm is done, so long as it is provocative. (I’ve always deeply appreciated the mystery of Giorgione’s “Tempest”, without having ever had the faintest idea what it stands for.)
Stir it up.
“Witches” runs through May 7 at September, 449 Warren Street (Second floor).
1 Marianne Vitale, “Very Fine Gander”, 2017
2 Anna Betbeze, “Untitled (Collection)”, 2017
3 Someone’s curious