|Location is often influential to art scenes. Often young artists’ early work especially demonstrates this, with the artists responding to what immediately confronts them. The issue of location is at the roots of the group show, Underground on BROADWAY, at Broadway Gallery NYC in New York’s SoHo this past summer, with both artists and curator being conscious of the traveling aspect of this young show, that it was being conceived in London to be shown in New York. To categorize art by place of origin is perhaps contrived, but the artist often does this irrespectively, directing us to origin purely through the visual.|
Location is often influential to art scenes. Often young artists’ early work especially demonstrates this, with the artists responding to what immediately confronts them. The issue of location is at the roots of the group show, Underground on BROADWAY, at Broadway Gallery NYC in New York’s SoHo this past summer, with both artists and curator being conscious of the traveling aspect of this young show, that it was being conceived in London to be shown in New York. To categorize art by place of origin is perhaps contrived, but the artist often does this irrespectively, directing us to origin purely through the visual. Whether Underground on BROADWAY directs us to London was made more interesting by its sister show, Pop-Up New York, which entered into a contrasting visual dialogue by springing New York’s young art up across the gallery space. Two shows, two cities—hung separately, but close enough to let them talk.
What is intriguing is that the energy of a show cannot be completely determined until works are hung. Underground on BROADWAY evolved into a quiet space of subtle, but poignant pieces of place. Space became as much a part of this exhibition as the art, governed by Sophie Duckworth’s installation, Habilments, a sculpture that commands the air as much as the eye. Habilments are the growing memories of Duckworth’s Burmese grandfather, memories she can only imagine, memories that hang as fragile threads, melting with thoughts of illustrious gold and cream wax, woven with the colored fabric of imagination. These suspended arches hold space still, casting dramatic shadows that act as an extension of Duckworth’s encompassment of both the viewer and the surrounding environment.
This manipulation of symbolic space is picked up by Tim Sargent’s dream catcher, Digital Dreams. Made entirely of electrical wire, the work makes a statement about how much our lives are taken up by electronic devices, catching the dreams created by that electronically dictated “space” within our minds. Adam Higman’s piece, a tampered counting “clicker” encased in a Perspex box, is a three-dimensional illustration of traveled time. Set to zero on departure, it kept a metaphorical count of the amount of “time” it took for the show to travel from London to New York.
The Underground artists show their reaction to influence through a presentation of visual awareness of space. Real images of London are captured in RART’s photography. Caitlin Montie Greer’s Into the Ordinary series does this through intimately close images of found, discarded pieces of the city, while Leanne Elliott’s 120 Nights of Sodom tells tales of what goes on after dark, with menacingly Cimmerian photographs of people’s feet on wet pavement. The show as a whole is tightly unified; these artists’ portrayals share their mode of subtlety and style rather than specific subject. A more complete picture of London materializes in Sam Hodge’s Queen’s Road Peckham, a painterly cascade of grayed streets and estates, presenting a reflective atmosphere that mirrors that of the show itself.
It is Hodge’s painting that provides the symbolic difference between the two shows, a concentration on atmosphere and internal projection, in contrast with Jungyeon Roh’s depiction of New York’s streets, a bright neon silk screen of Broadway. Playfully colored and littered with detail, Roh’s work is reflective of the Pop-Up New York show as a whole; it possesses a vibrant immediacy, much less cryptic than the Underground show. The atmosphere of the space is less unified and more eclectic, created by a focus that turns from the summoning of place to the emotions of people.
Darlin Frometa’s almost life-size paintings feature big men in dresses, acting in scenes that illustrate common superstition: scrupulously painted with a varnished sheen, an Afro-haired cross-dresser gazes into a mirror filled with black cats. The same society of expectations produces Young Heller’s ghoul-like couple, breaking under the strain of their family’s ugly pressure in the garishly colored No Hard Feelings, a painting taken from his The Holy Blessing Series. Pop-Up New York is much more about characters influencing, and influenced by, emotion. Tory Sica’s sailors stare blindly, repeated caricatures in ink depicting the many faces of the American military, while Cameron Snow’s miniature portraits of Halloween-dressed children are haunting little figures of commercialism.
Pop-Up New York plays with an atmosphere concurrent with its city’s culture, providing a stark contrast to the London show, where subtlety of place, thought, and memory prevails. The exception to this is Julian Lorber’s work. His large canvas quietly articulates the over-communication and excess of information in the Western world. His meticulous pen drawings migrate relentlessly across the canvas, only to be stopped halfway down by pure and silent white. Lorber’s abstract work possesses the minimalist but impactful effect of the Underground show and, positioned in the gallery as a visual bridge, acts as a communication between them, mirroring the very meaning of the piece itself.
The blend of different origins, of both literal and symbolic place and influence, makes these two shows, when seen together, particularly reactive. The difference in atmosphere between them reinforces their individual effect, with the probing mixture of painting, photography, mixed media, and installation. Reflecting the prominence of place and their original spontaneity, both shows are interactively approached, documented online, and on the opening night, streamed live to England. Concentration on visitor reaction, what audiences made of these contrasting origins, became an important aspect of these shows, with people’s responses captured in a short film listed on the show’s site (undergroundonbroadway.wordpress.com). An innovative communication emerged through Underground on BROADWAY and Pop-Up New York, an interaction between two shows, two countries, two audiences, and ultimately between their artists.