Artscape, Baltimore’s annual, gigantic public art festival, and the Artist-Run Art Fair launch this week. We visited a few local galleries ahead of time to scope out what’s on view across town from the main festivities. We saw too much art to fit into one post, but we’ll start off with solo projects from Jonathan Latiano, Jon Duff, and Jihyun Hong.
Jonathan Latiano: Existence and Properties are Inferred and Jon Duff: Panspermia on Amazon Prime
421 N. Howard
July 9 – 31
What’s on view: In the main gallery, the windows have been blacked-out to dramatically light a massive installation by Jonathan Latiano. It comprises cracked chunks of asphalt pavement, oil-slick-covered stones, and seemingly handmade orbs suspended from the ceiling. In the project space, an assortment of dioramas by Jon Duff includes everything from underwear in a fish tank to Cheetos and LEDs on lava rocks. Duff also has a series of interior design catalogs that have been painted on.
Michael: The first time I was introduced to either artist’s work was in a chaotic (but impressive) two person show they staged five years ago called The Crunch, at Gallery CA. It’s really enjoyable to see how the two practices have matured and somewhat diverged while still retaining their common found-meets-crafty aesthetics and principle concerns of consumption and the built (or fantastical) environment. Latiano’s piece is all about our fraught relationship with petroleum, while Jon Duff’s exhibition was supposedly inspired by Star Trek, philosophy, online shopping, and “the moment you realize you are living in a sci-fi reality”. In either case, we get a sense that there’s something ominously wrong with some vision of consumer utopia.
Molly: That’s funny, I didn’t know Jon’s work was based off Star Trek. My first impression when I entered the room was that these objects were like a physical encapsulation of the moments I’m lying in bed watching Rick and Morty trying to soothe whatever existential crisis I’m currently having. Walking around felt like entering a futuristic museum of Sci-Fi curiosities.
Michael: But also such a compendium of art trends that signify “now”, including a gaze towards the future: plants, subaquatic art in vitrines, LEDs, fast food, constructed environments… it’s a funny skewering of things that are really “in” right now, mischievously thrown together like a weird salad that looks good but you wouldn’t want to eat. I’m thinking of the catalog images of the “casual modern” interiors that look straight out of Dwell but are dripping with mystery fluids or the vitrine full of plants (such an art trend) that has some sort of slimy painting. When I moved out of my apartment and lifted furniture that was next to houseplants, I discovered all these gross mounds of damp dirt or moldy roots that had escaped planters. Duff reminds us that anything has the potential for a gross-out factor even if it’s supposed to be beautiful or en vogue.
Molly: I want to preface this by saying I have a “cheeto as medium” art fetish to a fault. At a glance all the “trendy” signifiers (the cheetos, “I’M THE BIG BOSS” mug, etc) that you see net art bros using all the time kind of made me want to roll my eyes, but these works are so grotesquely ornamental with the oozing resin and gunk it seemed like a facetious play on these trends. They felt like little dioramas of the future, the plastic plant arrangements and primordial looking goo enveloping these objects are kin to CGI animations on those TV shows where nature overtakes abandoned cities after humans are gone, except with more cosmic glitter slime.
Michael: I respect that neither Duff nor Latiano lets us “merely” marvel at a technical feat—there’s always a vaguely ominous presence in both artists’ work here, lurking just below, or atop, a pretty surface. Latiano’s Existence and Properties are Inferred is pretty awe-inspiring to walk around. I believe I heard that the install took over two weeks? It’s this giant, iridescent, room-sized artwork that totally sucks you in, but up close some of the surfaces are lumpy or slimy-looking like you don’t want to touch anything. I also overheard people saying it reminded them of a post-apocalyptic Game of Thrones intro. I think that’s such an apt description. There’s such a cinematic quality to the lighting and the way it interacts with the objects’ different lusters. Mostly, the piece is coincidentally so relevant to the neighborhood—where the gallery is literally surrounded on almost all sides by giant sinkholes collapsing streets. Latiano planned this before the first one opened, but it feels like whatever seismic forces are swallowing up Downtown Baltimore have been pulling chunks of the pavement to this vortex and returning them to crude oil for assumption to another realm.
Molly: I also like that Duff and Latiano’s rooms both created tension between the natural world and human obstruction. Latiano’s room was a more violent take, I felt like I’d been transported into a post-apocalyptic Sci-Fi set that was bewitching yet cold. At first the sleekness of the installation made me feel suspended in a vulnerable and transitory moment but upon further observation of the surface the sculpture seemed callous and possibly dangerous. Game of Thrones is a really great description. I was going to say this installation reminded me of the end of Sailor Moon, where the set is dazzling and delicate while still conveying a sense of imminent doom.
Michael: Well we really are living in a sci-fi/fantasy reality, right? We’re actors in some disaster thriller where the Bond villains of the world have conspired to extract a mysterious black goo from the ground, cover untold acres of the earth with it, and then pump it into the atmosphere to bring about the end of the world for profit.
Molly: …and distract us with Pokemon Go:
Jihyun Hong: Mae-il Mae-il
512 W Franklin St<
July 9 – August 6, 2016
What’s on view: More plants! (fake), LED lighting in paper tubes, plastic fruit, rubber erasers, and mysterious plastic bags.
Michael: This installation is so calmingly sparse I wanted to live in it. It’s also such a puzzling assortment of objects that everyone had a great time speculating what it was all about. Even a seemingly-inebriated couple who happened to be walking by the gallery had their take. (“I like the parts that are more mysterious!”) Maybe because I had seen the shows at Current earlier in the night, I tried to attach some enviro-political message to the work. It looks like a map, with tropical plants at the foot of mountains and a river with an assembly line of cash crops such as rubber and bananas heading to paper bags! Is this about the deforestation of the Amazon basin? Nope. It turns out it has something to do with the artist’s childhood obsession with candy. Huh. Whatever her intent, it’s undeniably a really nice, economical tableau to look at and take in slowly.
Molly: Normally I would be annoyed if a seemingly (definitely) inebriated couple walked into a gallery pointing and yelling “I LIKE THAT” at every object in the room but it was oddly perfect for this show. I pretty much had the same reaction walking into Open Space, “I really like it in here.” The room felt like a childhood fantasy, a map a kid had drawn in sculptural form. I’m having a difficult time figuring out an eloquent way to describe how obsessed I am with that neon silhouette of a landscape, but maybe that is part of the artist’s intentions. Coming from Current, where the works were friendly on the surface with a biting undertone it took me a second to let go and not read too hard into this installation. I had so much fun standing at the front of the gallery trying to piece together the different components in the room. I would also absolutely move into Jihyun Hong’s saccharine candy soaked fantasy.