“Shred” at Perry Rubenstein Gallery

Originally posted at GalleryCrawl

July 17, 2010

“Shred” at Perry Rubenstein Gallery

Under Pseudonym:  Erin Tireses

An eight foot wide comic book style close-up of two women passionately kissing greets the visitors to “Shred,” a group show at Perry Rubenstein Gallery. Curated by Carlo McCormick, “Shred” explores the art of collage. Each artist uses the form differently, bringing a unique approach to the medium, and the show itself presents the viewer with the wide range of the possibilities that collage has to offer.

Never Enough by FAILE, with the central image of two women embracing, appears to be a collage created from layers of ripped images. The main, carnal image emerges from a wall of advertisements for call girls, like those that cover plywood construction barriers. However, the entire piece is acrylic on canvas, painted in a trompe l’oeil fashion, successfully commenting on gorilla and found art without co-opting those forms.

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Never Enough, by FAILE. Photo by Erin Tireses.

All of the most successful pieces in the show add an element to the basic idea of collage – that of a simple assemblage of images – and in doing so evoke some unexpected ideas. Helicopter, by Swoon, is not an assemblage of images, but the surface itself is assembled from scraps of newspapers in various languages, envelopes, and discarded plastic bags. On this collaged surface, Swoon screen-printed a huge, masterful image of two large heads emerging from peasants tilling a field. The piece is strikingly beautiful from a distance. The materials of the surface give the piece an ephemeral air, while the image of toiling workers references the cultural revolutions of the 20th century. The use of trash as a surface for such a work is an example of form reflecting content: the scraps of a wasteful society are used to create revolutionary art.

02shredswoonHelicopter, by Swoon. Photo by Erin Tireses.

Four Square, by Bruce Conner is a small, one dimensional piece created out of images from different eras and cultures. The artist uses a traditional Christian print of Christ bearing the cross, and integrates other images to add another dimension of space and meaning, which entirely changes the effect of the piece. The added images are all from different eras and traditions, yet they are so well-placed and integrated in both style and scale that they do not corrupt the balance of the original print. In fact, the image of a headless magician is added so seamlessly that it appears like a small child is turning from the scene at Golgotha to reach for a magician’s hat, highlighting shared ideas of magic and wonder in everyday life. This capability of collage—to bring together seemingly disconnected images and the ideas they represent—is increasingly pertinent as multiculturalism intensifies around the world.

03shredconnerFour Square, by Bruce Conner. Photo by Erin Tireses.

Three pieces by Gee Vaucher are simple collages of images pasted on other images, but they diverge from the standard trajectory of that concept with their subtlety. Vaucher uses common place photographs, like that of a woman holding her head, then distorts the faces. But instead of creating a shocking juxtaposition, Vaucher carefully weaves three or four images onto the faces, so that at first glance, the image still feels like an unaltered photograph. The effect is quietly disturbing and causes the viewer to question their assumptions about common images and the common place.

04shredvaucherInstallation view of four pieces by Gee Vaucher. Photo by Erin Tireses.

Look Out, by Erick Foss, most explicitly explores the idea of found art. The majority of the work, in terms of area, is a single found painting of a wooded mountain range, whose sweeping grandeur is awe-inspiring. Atop this, Foss evenly places images of floating, hooded figures and one comical Dracula, who stands atop a tower of stuffed owls and points at the viewer. These figures also inspire awe, but of a very different sort, like that inspired by the idea of the grim reaper. By pairing these two versions of awe, Foss explores the emotional underpinnings of both.

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Look Out, by Erick Foss. Photo by Erin Tireses.

 A work by Shepard Fairey commanded much attention on opening night. I had never seen a piece by Shepard Fairey other than his mass produced posters, which although masterfully composed and effectively graphic, I generally considered emotionally flat and less about craft than politics. But Big Brother is Watching You justifies his fame for me. The colors and assemblage are beautiful, and by layering different mediums, such as wood, plaster, and paint, he creates a surface that is so beautifully subtle it is a work of art in its own right, adding an element of physical depth to the medium of collage. Like the surface of Helicopter, the layers themselves work with the overt political message of the piece: newspaper headlines of executive orders and presidential power are masked behind layers of paint and wood.

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Big Brother is Watching You, by Shepard Fairey. Photo by Erin Tireses.

Three video installations run in a loop on one television in the corner of the gallery. The most successful was Triumph of the Wild, by Martha Colburn. In it, images of toy soldiers war with images of wild animals bounding through pastoral landscapes. Blood explodes in almost every scene, and the stop motion animation pulses with a contagious rhythm that had viewers tapping their feet. Many of the images are sections of puzzles, which are assembled between frames before they begin to war with other images. This tactic is self-reflexive for the art of collage, which is assembled in a similar way as a puzzle is pieced together. The toy soldiers and stuffed animals may seem to come from different worlds, but they fit together quite nicely, and it makes war and environmental destruction seem inevitable, as these toys are constantly paired in the toy boxes of America’s youth.

When the video ends, this concept of the collage as the piecing together of a puzzle resonates and lends itself to the rest of the show. Almost every collage in the exhibition successfully performs this important function. They bring together pieces of the world that were once chaotic and indecipherable, and create a clear picture, a more inclusive system of order. For this reason, the show is more thought provoking than many shows of a similar size, it holds the viewers in the gallery for hours, and it sticks with them long after they leave.

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