All That Glitters

For these three artists, bright, shiny surfaces also have depth

Perhaps this exhibition at the Art and Culture Center of Hollywood would be more aptly titled "Brave New World." I kept thinking of soma, the addictive pleasure drug in Aldous Huxley's dystopic narrative.

The consumption referred to by curator Samantha Salzinger in "All You Can Eat" is that which produces a haze, a detachment from worldly desires, rather than an appetizer. Salzinger zeroed in on what adbusters.org founder Kalle Lasn describes as the "emptiness of our spectacular culture" in his book Culture Jam.

It's true that the works in "All You Can Eat" tend to blind with their glittery, luxe surfaces. But featured artists Sue Irion, Gavin Perry, and Mette Tommerup aren't really engaged in an activation of surfaces in a traditional manner. Very little hand-inflected surface remains in any of these works. Sporting glossy, protective coatings that function as barriers or prophylactics preventing infection, the works in the exhibit speak to unattainable fulfillment of desire.

Gavin Perry's Transmitting Live from Mars
Gavin Perry's Transmitting Live from Mars
A piece from Mette Tommerup's  Orb Passages series
A piece from Mette Tommerup's Orb Passages series

As I ingested one artwork after the next, I felt successively more narcotic reactions being induced in me, rather than aesthetic ones that stimulate the senses. This was anesthetic, a numbing of the senses.

The conspiracy of auto-paint veneers, plywood, and ersatz textures in Perry's Transmitting Live from Mars is technically an assemblage of resin, glitter, wood, galvanized steel, and carpet. Its faux snakeskin lining on the reverse plays with inner and outer, as in leather interior with pimp purple exterior finish. This work stubbornly refuses to relinquish being a painting, albeit an exploded or dissected painting, skin peeled back, innards exposed. The precisely sliced cross-sections of Perry's pieces reveal the tension between structure and veneer, which animates his work.

Perry's paintings and constructions provide the most expressionist surfaces in this show, as well as the most robust titles -- poetic, with lots of action verbs. The strong gestalt evident in the placement of bolts, screws, edges of varnishes, saw cuts, pencil markings, rough-hewn versus sanded wood, angles and joints, creates a language as varied and spontaneous as that wrought with a painter's "touch."

An up-close viewing of the glittery surface of Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, infinitesimal particles in gelatinous suspension, provides a tingly, private elation, which is nothing if not pleasurable. If he replaces traditional pictorial incident with sparkling static, Perry is still a colorist. He professes to be inspired by custom-car culture in the same manner that previous generations of painters sought to capture the shade of a certain flower or a tone of flesh. Car colors and their metallic patinas have become part of the pastoral, local color of our time, as are hair colors from a box, nail polishes, and the billions and billions of flavors, fragrances, and artificial dyes we consume on a daily basis.

Perry adapts logos in his work, recontextualizing heraldic imagery such as his Ferrari horse and the Louis Vuitton fabric swatch in Disarm the Sexes. Bullhorns and "wild" animal images in cheaply made rugs function as postmodern totems.

The imagery in Tommerup's Under Lightseries of Lambda prints (computer-generated images exposed on photographic paper then, in this case, mounted on aluminum) takes its cues from vibrations in nature, like wood grain whorls or ever-expanding rings from drops of water landing in a pool, and she interrupts them with staccato strands of lightning and intermittent wayward waves.

These processes, however, feel silent, repetitive, sheathed in their digital regularity. Her Orb Passages of circular Lambda prints under Plexiglas variously resemble bits of cereal suspended in milk, certain divination activities, the view looking down into a well, and a game of marbles being played within a circle.

Their prismatic colors, which swallow miniature houses and figures, divide their shapes dispassionately. Homunculi squirm under the microscope lens along with tiny single-cell animals or plant cultures going about their business in a petri dish. Each orb neatly cups the eye of the viewer and draws attention to its depths, like a crystal ball, revealing distant, transcendent events occurring deep within its recesses, hopelessly hermetic.

Irion's installations Blue Road and Road Trip virtually evaporated as I passed through. These last pieces were created with fluorescent washes of photo emulsion on canvases, invisible to the naked eye save for the introduction of blacklight. Each canvas is erected like a low wall and arranged in an aisle formation, which the viewer floats past. The effect simulates a nocturnal drive down U.S. 1, banal landmarks lit with fading neon. Irion is based in Switzerland, so perhaps these kitsch scenes, familiar to us, seemed exotic to her. But in the context of contemporary art in Miami, they barely register. The interactivity of her Chinese bar (serving zombies -- again, the walking dead) and the canvas of Bruce Lee strain to connect with one another.

Curator Salzinger has used her position to create relevant, interesting, professionally installed exhibitions, and she has succeeded in putting the Art and Culture Center on the map as an alternative outpost from which to consider developments in South Florida's contemporary art scene.

 
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