Volume 77 / Number 46 - April 16 - 22, 2008
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since
1933


Art

LICKING YOUR WOUNDS
Stephen J. Shanabrook
Through May 3
Daneyal Mahmood Gallery
511 W. 25th Street, Third Fl.
(212-674-2966; daneyalmahhmood.com)

YET ALL REMAINS
Victoria Sambunaris
Through May 17
Yancey Richardson Gallery
535 W. 22nd Street
(646-230-9610; yanceyrichardson.com)

Courtesy Yancey Richardson Gallery

Vicotria Sambunaris “Untitled, Carlin, NV”

Courtesy Daneyal Mahmood Gallery

Stephen J Shanabrook “3 Virgins in Paradise” pressed melted plastic

Topical (and/or) political

History, individuism and fate clamor at the gate

By Jeffrey Cyphers Wright

How we comment on the world round us… how we say our piece… how we struggle to improve the commonweal… these are the most-asked questions by most artists (if you ask me). Responding to both the ideal and the real, two current exhibitions share some high ground while inhabiting different worlds: the United States and the Middle East.
Stephen J. Shanabrook has shows this year in Geneva, Paris, St. Petersburg, and New York, where he lives. The Manhattan venue, Daneyal Mahmood Gallery, has a political edge. Its most recent show, “The Green Zone,” conjured a spirit of punchy war weariness, and this one, entitled “Licking your wounds,” is a provocation. Resounding on many levels, from aesthetic to critical, and from polemical to historic, it plays symbols against themselves in a searing display that calls into question our concept of self-fulfillment.

In a macabre centerpiece made of chocolate, the upper torso and spilled guts of a female suicide bomber are spread flat across the floor. Intense revulsion hits the viewer at this unseemly sight, the cast of which was based on a photograph. A contrast of opposites sets up a chorus of contradictions that pounds away at one’s core: life/ death, up/ down/, murderer/ martyr—and the most visceral, sweet/ s—ty.

In other works in the show, Shanabrook uses a hot press to melt plastic and various materials into large, clear lozenges. Many of the large platter-size ovals are dramatically wrapped in plastic, adding to their confectionary appeal. “Eye candy,” I quipped to Mr. Shanabrook and he acknowledged the double-edged compliment.

Similes swirl around the theme of sacrifice and what is worth dying for. In “Three Virgins,” the artist has paired three store-bought female dolls with a male. Red stains exude from the torn dolls. Bits of snappy yellow and black add decorative caché.

After all of the items are placed on a single sheet of transparent plastic, they are melded into a semi-translucent amalgam. Recalling Greek and Etruscan porcelain, a decorative border rings the edge. Motifs spin as Shanabrook finds beauty in the discomfiture of violence.

Set on boxes well out from the wall, the discs throw off delicate stained glass shadow forms as gallery lights shine through them. They are presented as trophies won in a hostile environment.

In “These Colors Don’t Run,” half-melted skeletons replace stars. The stripes are shiny black ‘n’ white beads, flattened and stuck together. The artist is letting the images speak for themselves in some ways, and Shanabrook told me it could have been a flag from any country. It’s not just about the death in Iraq. It’s also about how many people have died to preserve freedom, about how many people are willing to make the ultimate sacrifice—and for what? For an idea and an ideal that this show squarely and powerfully addresses.

Ideals are explored as part of our wilderness heritage at Yancey Richardson Gallery. Handsomely represented in the project gallery are practitioners of the New Topographic tradition, a group that four decades ago began examining the human impact on the landscape. Intimate black-and-white photos of tract homes in the desert play ironically on our notions of pristine nature and our place in it.

These photographers were seminal in shaping the vision of Victoria Sambunaris who drove over 11,000 miles taking pictures for this solo show. Scale is a major note here as we gaze at immense vistas in the large, color photos. Interested in the intersection of geology and biology (especially human), Sambunaris regards each of her landscapes as “an anomaly with an abundance of information to be discovered.” The crystal clear images are packed with precise details.

Confronting humans’ seemingly insatiable demand to consume material and space, one is humbled, even frightened. New tract houses being constructed out west snake across a barren valley of scrub grass. Their rectangular and triangular shapes resemble molecular models, yet these babies are behemoths. In the distance, a jagged black mountain range topped with snow rhymes with the forms in the foreground. Topping out the enormous span, a turquoise sky is shared by clouds, adding to the depth, both physically and metaphorically.

A strip mine in Wyoming is depicted as a flat black expanse. At the far end, a couple of orange cranes or giant shovels appear tiny. A white conveyor, parallel to the distant horizon line, stretches across the expanse. Such bleak material elicits rich, albeit uneasy, emotions.

In contrast, snow-covered hills echo stillness. Only a handful of telephone poles reach up to the photographer’s solitary vantage point. This minimal invasion of civilization on the boondocks offers sanctuary after the full-out assault of the other images.

For all the disturbing import of humanity’s interaction with nature, Sambunaris keeps her foreboding in check. Her title, “Yet All Remains,” possesses an optimistic ring. Still, the word “remains” is a euphemism for passing on. What will we pass on?

 

 

 

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