Art Week


Roth, Charlene. Review, Artweek, May 2005, p. 19, 20

The whole science (art) is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.
-Albert Einstein, Physics and Reality (1936)

The now overused and often misused term “postmodernism,” which trails a retinue of sometimes contradictory discourses, can be use to define an art-making genre popular during the last twenty years of the twentieth century. It was characterized by a reaction among some artists against an official modernism, and that genre’s self-referential focus on endlessly refining formal issues. Modernism, near the end of the millennium, was seem to be representative of linear thinking, the inequitable distribution of wealth, a relentless march of technology and the dark side of capitalism in general. Postmodern artists choose to critique their modernist predecessors and contemporaries by glorifying the everyday, the mundane and the abject. The establishment critic, Hilton Framer, referred to this movement as “the revenge of the philistines” due, in part, to these artists’ glorification of kitsch and much else considered tasteless by art institutions.

We currently are, for lack of a commonly agreed of upon descriptor, in an age of post-postmodernism. Art history seems to be doubling back upon itself. A group of artists enamored with the conceptual stance and production of the postmodernist movement are now involved in refining the prior genres’ practices; interestingly, they are turning again to exactly the device that fueled the postmodernists’ rejection of modernism. A heightened, sometimes fussy, formal sensibility is prevalent in the new work. The three female Angelenos – Bari Ziperstein, Sherin Guirguis and Carrie Ungerman – in the exhibition, Sculpture, are an example. All use domestic or institutional everyday materials and objects, a reflection of their postmodern base or point of reference, as the foundation from which to launch their conceptual variances.

Ziperstein has adopted the cardboard box as her melodic line. From it she produced site-specific sculptures, studies for drawings, silk screens and paintings. Her current expressive ideology is tied to a critique of excess and mass consumption in a post-industrial, consumer culture. And to push this critique a notch, she has begun to reuse a single group of cardboard boxes to avoid excessive consumption herself, but also to reiterate the typical life cycle of a box. In her hands, boxes are recycled to become source material for an assortment of presentations like the one here where they are folded flat and stacked between aqua foam palettes to create a tower. The use of the cardboard box is hardly unique to postmodern art. What is different is that they are arranged in a formally resonate configuration with a focus on color and form. The glow and reflection of subtle neon stripes emanate from between each box to produce a startling relationship to late modernist fine art production. Ziperstein’s work is not about the cardboard box so much as it is about formal arrangements. Ultimately the artist, like the other artists in this show, has a foot in two genres.

Guirguis draws information from an institutional setting for her work in the Bank show. Taking retro, midtwentieth-century classroom chairs as her base, she digitally redraws and stacks them to establish a disjunctive image, which is then transferred to wood and thinly cur to create a sculpture. The sculpture is a deconstruction of the intent and functionality of an original object, in this case, a student sear in an educational institution. The result is hung, like a painting, on the gallery wall and backlit by a neon glow. Once again – the conceptual critique is modified, even softened, by an alluring view.

The work that I found most stimulating in Sculpture was Ungerman’s silver thread mass, a small mass or knot of silver thread mounted on a board. Mundane materials like threads (or dirt or dust or water or rubber bands or tape) themselves made from plastic to cotton to polyester are a usual materials for Ungerman. She often arranges them in very particular configurations that discuss the nature of materials. Silver thread mass, however, seemed to have arranged itself. Perhaps I found the piece particularly interesting because I had just spent thirty minutes negotiating half a block of city traffic squeezed to single lane by two accidents. Once parked, I was challenged by a security agent who questioned my right to proceed along the block that housed the gallery because his employers were filming a street scene and, as if that were not enough, the gallery keeper was curt and unsympathetic when I rang the doorbell because the gallery door would not open. I admit I was in a hurry to find sanctuary.

Ungerman’s work was just that. It was serene, universal and open to a myriad of interpretations. It was not contrived or artificial – I did not have to know anything specific to reap its benefits. Yet, it, like the other works in the show, had a savvy formal aspect and this augmented its information, both formal and conceptual, because both lay entwined in a salient arrangement of material, which seemed to evolve form that material. The work presented an unfolding space, albeit a knot, open for anyone to fall into and discover what s/he needed.