spirals out of sight: Kavanaugh and Nguyen’s White
MoCA, through Feb. 27, 2011
Bigger is not always better. But in the case of MASS MoCA,
big is often the way to go. Material World is a perfect
fit for the unruly spaces that make up the second and third
floor galleries of this institution. Dictated by their previous
lives as industrial areas, these galleries are made up of
an incoherent warren of dark and oddly shaped rooms of varying
size and ceiling height. The exhibition takes advantage of
these architectural quirks by displaying work that takes into
consideration the design, structure, and historical function
of the building.
It is best to approach the exhibition from the metal staircase
that leads from the entrance of the galleries up to the second
floor. Going this way ensures your first “wow.” Tobias Putrih’s
Re-projection: Hoosac is immediately noticeable to
the left. Made of immensely long strands of monofilament that
span the full length of the gallery, the piece is spotlighted
in the middle to create a halo effect. Inspired by a beam
of light as well as by the nearby Hoosac Tunnel, this installation
uses a simple, everyday material to create a visually stunning
In a similar way, Alyson Shotz’s Geometry of Light,
two galleries over, uses strands of wire hung with plastic
discs and glass beads as a study in light and shadow. Like
Putrih, Shotz explores perception as well as materiality.
Both artists are interested in the way each of their respective
installations changes depending upon the vantage point of
the visitor. The reflective materials in Shotz’s installation
shimmer and sparkle while casting dynamic shadows on the walls
and floor. Through her work Shotz considers the mutable boundaries
between solid and space. The work conjures thoughts about
the visible and the invisible, the substantial and the immaterial.
Whereas the pieces by Shotz and Putrih float ethereally in
their respective spaces, Orly Genger’s Big Boss breaks
through a wall and tumbles heavily and forbiddingly onto the
floor. Forced to go around it, visitors are confronted with
its mass. Painted bright red, it is dynamic and triumphant.
By knotting 100 miles of rope using a crochet stitch, the
artist has made a normally flexible and pliable material strong
and impermeable. The piece dominates the brick, wood, and
metal architectural elements that surround it.
Across the room, White Stag competes for space. Here
the collaborative team of Wade Kavanaugh and Stephen B. Nguyen
has also managed to transform a flexible and modest material
into a monumental form. By twisting and manipulating paper
they have created a forest of trees that appears to grow through
the ceiling, into the floor above, and out through the roof.
The white and ghostly limbs and roots meander and twirl anarchically
throughout the space. It is impossible to resist crawling
underneath and around and over them.
Almost seamlessly connected to the top level of White Stag,
Dan Steinhilber’s Breathing Room reminds visitors of
the intangible. The piece shifts and billows around the viewer,
which brings to mind some sort of sublime internal organ.
Its amorphous shape is sometimes expanding and sometimes collapsing
based on air currents created by fans.
In opposition to the buoyancy of Breathing room is
the nearby Lightning Generation by Michael Beutler.
Situated in a gallery that was once an electric laboratory,
this installation references man-made industry as well as
the handmade. Comprised of tall, shiny columns made from bent
aluminum, these hulking shapes, stacked precariously about
the room, are both ominous and enticing.
While most of the work in the exhibition is participatory
in that visitors can move in and around the installations,
the pieces are meant to be more theatrical than interactive.
Eli Levenstein’s Reading Room, however, is the only
installation where visitors can actually manipulate certain
elements in the room. Unfortunately, it is the least compelling
work in the show.
The overall sensory experience of the exhibition is what makes
it so beguiling and because of the tactile quality of much
of the work included, it may be hard for visitors to keep
their hands off. And it would be hard to blame them. But just
in case the work gets much abused, you might want to see it
sooner than later.
Brown: Collect the Sun
Gallery, Kingston, through May 22
In the painting Collect the Sun, a diminutive boat
floats through an abstracted green ocean attached to a line
from which emanates multicolored teardrop shapes. It is hard
to look at this painting without thinking about the oil spill
that is threatening the Gulf of Mexico. Gabe Brown’s paintings
are full of references to nature and the man-made. Her show
is a perfect fit for spring when thoughts turn to renewal
and we celebrate Earth Day.
Brown’s paintings are layered with images of birds, mushrooms,
plants, cellular structures, geological formations, and vivid
curlicues. Combining wide brushstrokes, thin lines, and solid
geometrics, Brown creates mysterious allegories that mix both
abstract and realistic elements. The tone of her work is whimsical
but with an underlying message. It is clear that while her
paintings are about process they are also about the environment
and biology and the fragile and miraculous balance of life.