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Art

Abundant offerings

Two shows highlight gallery’s elegant new space

Photo: Mark Anthony, License: N/A

Mark Anthony

Lori Larusso’s “Dirt and Glitter”


Small Wonders and spectaculars, and particulate matter

Through Jan. 5 at Jordan Faye Contemporary

Jordan Faye Contemporary has stuffed the walls of its new space in an old Mount Vernon mansion on Park Avenue with so many pictures that one might be forgiven for imagining that Gertrude Stein has miraculously arisen from the dead and come back to her old hometown. Every inch of wall space—including the bathroom—is crammed with paintings from two simultaneous shows and sculptural pieces occupy every surface.

The first and far more populated of the shows, Small Wonders and Spectaculars, is an annual show that began six years ago as a way for people to begin collections with smaller works from a wide variety of artists. The pieces on display this year are generally small, but they are neither thrown-together nor slight. Unlike so many of the city’s shows, the rhetoric surrounding the works doesn’t stand in as an excuse for poor execution. The strange wood, leather, and metal half-sex toy, half-weapon pieces by David Page function as a seductive introduction to the artist’s oeuvre, whose shapes and textures straddle the violent line between natural and fetish. Kate MacKinnon’s large (Jordan Faye Block added “Spectacular” to the “Small Wonders” tagline to allow for larger works), highly worked-over “Grey” paintings, hung above the stairs, with their super-gloss, also act as an introduction to her work as whole. There is something austere about the works of both these artists, but they are also generous—neither artist is condescending or overly hip—and highly crafted.

The same holds for some of the smallest works on display. Jim Doran’s miniature cutouts in small tins (think antique versions of Altoids) are meticulous in their Edward Gorey-like scenes of the macabre. “The Ghouls and the Grackles” is only a couple inches high, but its scene—a red skeletal figure standing over a casket in front of three bird-faced men in suits, in a finely appointed Edwardian parlor—packs more punch than many larger works. It’s the best use of artistic real estate in town.

Edie Nadelhaft’s “Better Living thru Chemistry” series consists of a number of oversized pill capsules marked with internet acronyms like LMAO, WTF, or OMG. The joke doesn’t last very long—the works wouldn’t hold up in a solo show. But amidst such an abundance, they are charming, eliciting a smile and perhaps a chuckle, even if they don’t cause one’s ass to fall off. Donald Edwards’ series of “junk warriors” are as immediately arresting, but their sly humor also lasts longer. Rabbit-like figures sculpted with found junk, twine, metal, beads, wire, and hardware manage to come across as both creepy and endearingly cute. Their multilayered construction also turns them into a sort of puzzle that can sustain longer contemplation as one teases them apart. Nadelhaft and Edwards manage to be whimsical, without using it as an excuse to be lackadaisical.

As with any show featuring so many artists, some pieces fall flat. There is a certain comic-book charm to Lawrence Cromwell’s oil and wax paintings, but without the profusion of other works surrounding them, they may seem merely spazzy. As it is, they add to the overall tone without having to carry too much weight.

Lori Larusso’s work—her solo show, Particulate Matter, which occupies one wall in the gallery, and other, related works throughout the space—also benefits from the company of other artists’ creations. In fact, Larusso’s 17 acrylic paintings of cakes and pies seem like filler (or, more charitably, dessert). They are all surface—surface is not as finely worked as one may hope, however. There is an appealing gloss to the monochromatic backgrounds, but the sweets themselves lack both definition and perspective. They are neither enticing nor disgusting: They are simply there.

It may be that the dessert comes across as unappealing because Larusso’s main course is so substantial. The series of eight paintings engage the eyes and the mind as they use the wall space around them to create perceptual puzzles. “Dirt and Glitter,” for instance, consists of several shaped panels painted with acrylic. At eye level, it’s a cutout painting of a hot tub with three black trash bags lying against its side. A few feet below that, a life-size painting of a trash bag on a panel of the same shape rests on the ground. Here, Larusso’s deft touch with a paint-brush is evident. She creates exactly the sort of sheen one would find on the plastic surface of a real trash bag, stuffed full of unevenly sized debris.

“If You Can Bake a Cake, You Can Make a Bomb” makes a similarly brilliant use of space and of shadows. A carton of eggs explodes in a jagged array of yolk and running whiteness an inch off the wall, allowing the shadow of each extrusion to set it apart in a heavy outline. Diagonally above it is a KitchenAid mixer, placed just so, as if in an idea-bubble above the mess. Another panel, “Responsible Fun,” hangs in the bathroom and depicts a patio table with a yellow umbrella and a slide that descends into a pale-blue swimming pool out of which an alligator climbs. These works are so successful because of the tension and the harmony between the shapes of the panel and the images painted on them. “Past Your Bedtime” and “Shift” both attempt to create the lonesome disorientation of staircases—in the case of the former, it echoes Proust’s narrator in Swann’s Way, listening to the adults from upstairs; the latter evokes the more Hitchcockian sense of looking down a spiral flight—through disjunctions of space and color. The shaped panels insist that everything in the paintings and even the space between them become foreground, eliminating background altogether. They are both fun and easy to “get” on one hand, and on the other, pay homage to the century-old explorations of space made by, say, Duchamp’s “Nude Descending a Staircase.”

One can only hope that Jordan Faye Contemporary will continue to make such spectacular use of its handsome new space.

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