I spent a lot of my Christmas holiday as the juror for a show down in Baltimore called Smörgåsbord. The show was a result of selections I drew from an open call, and as an essentially themeless exhibition, my choices were informed by the group of artists presented to me, formalism, and conceptual rigor.
Anyway, I was pretty pleased with the results, and so, too, it seems, was Baynard Woods at City Paper. The show got a great review in the paper yesterday, the title of which reads, “Rental Wonderland: The City Arts Building Steps Up Its Game”. So, if you all can excuse this bit of blatant self-promotion, here’s an excerpt I’m particularly pleased about:
“Chemical Physical,” [Matthew] Fishel’s entry in Smörgåsbord, at Gallery CA, is at the same time even more visually arresting and more cunning in its deployment of the opposition between the natural world and our ability to destroy it. The minute-and-15-second loop shows a small insect on the edge of a jet engine. As in the other video, nothing much happens on-screen: The bug edges closer and closer to the spinning intake of the engine. We know—or our minds project the fact—that it is bound to be sucked into the engine and obliterated, just as we know that dropped bombs must fall, and we are somehow caught up in the drama of this insect in the machine.
I stood lost in the loop, never knowing where it began or where it ended and, in the process, I realized that it was the surface itself that created such tension. The animation is, in fact, the most painterly work in this widely ranging show. It has the sheen, the glow, and the detail of the Flemish masters, and its sheer surfaceness is enough to hold one almost indefinitely. “Chemical Physical” takes the looping nature of the GIF phenomenon and elevates it to art.
The fact that an HD animation can produce a work of such exquisite painterliness reanimates a century-old art-world problem. When photography emerged as a medium, people began to ask what painting was for or what it might still do. The questions were answered with abstraction, Impressionism, Cubism, and the dozens of other -isms that make up art history of the 19th and 20th centuries. Until the relatively recent spate of photorealists, most painters steered away from the representative domain of the camera.
Whether intentional or not, the paintings in Smörgåsbord—juried by Paddy Johnson, the New York-based art writer and founder of the blog Art Fag City—take a similar tact.
More where that came from, here.