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Adorn Identity

Group Show Cursorily Examines Whom We Are

Karen Swenholt's "Gossip Grove."

By Kate Noonan | Posted 8/13/2008

Gallery Imperato's current Summer Group Show showcases a smart collection of works by artists Elyce Abrams, Sasha Blanton, Chris Bathgate, Alyssa Dennis, Matthew Kern, Cara Ober, Dana Reifler Amato, and Karen Swenholt. The exhibition's thoughtful installation allows a natural interplay between the pieces, many of which, one way or another, touch on the concepts of psychology, time, memory, and identity.

Placed in the front of the gallery is a grouping of three small-scale sculptures by Baltimore-based artist Chris Bathgate. The metal sculptures, which might better be described as mechanisms, are pieced together out of aluminum, brass, stainless steel, and copper and titled with model numbers--e.g., "FL633322251552." Astonishingly, the works are constructed entirely by hand but completely devoid of the human touch, which imparts upon them a mysterious, almost alien feel. Although they possess a certain Martian appeal, Bathgate's sculptures are also slightly menacing, given their remarkably precise construction and unclear purpose, and thus elicit a cautious fascination.

Dana Reifler Amato, a local artist and co-owner of Paperwork Gallery, displays her own adept hand with a group of three precise cut-paper works. Despite their fragile construction, "Untitled I" and "Untiled II," in particular, possess an architectural blueprint-like quality. The exacting, almost mathematical approach to Reifler Amato's pieces walks the thin line between fine art and design, and her works exist dually as paper abstractions and scientific plans. Alyssa Dennis' drawings also relate to architectural structures but, unlike Reifler Amato's works, address the ways in which the use of color in print and electronic media evokes associations with particular decades throughout recent history. By replicating these colors and removing them from their historical contexts, Dennis seeks to alter their meanings.

Matthew Kern's striking mixed-media piece "Internal Tatooing" examines the concept of memory with a personal yet universal series of Polaroid pictures. Each of the 140 snapshots captures fleeting, often ambiguous moments in time on Polaroid film. The ephemeral photos, which have been removed from their white casings, are layered upon the canvas, washed over with a milky varnish, and covered with an image of a child running with a handful of balloons. Peeking out from underneath the photographs, you can faintly detect handwritten letters, but the words themselves are illegible. Here Kern not only expresses the fragility of memory but also asserts the important role emotion plays within its retention. While you clearly can no longer make out the details of the moments encapsulated in the canvas' grids, the emotions tied to the memories remain.

Cara Ober continues to challenge cultural conceptions in her two pieces on view. "Nothing's Gonna Touch You in These Golden Years" is a collection of 56 small works on paper arranged in a grid, echoing Kern's nearby canvases. "Nothing's Gonna Touch You" employs Ober's trademark blending of witty text (resulting from her collaboration with Andy Fox) and carefully chosen iconography appropriated from the everyday world. The works range from poetic to humorous, as in her gilded hot dog graced with the text "Debonair with rage." In looking at the American cultural identity, Ober experiments with high- and lowbrow in terms of title (taken from a David Bowie song), subject matter, and materials. Joining images of everyday objects such as food and clothing, you see pop icons Audrey Hepburn and Woody Allen, and spiritual and social leaders, all of which are rendered in a mixture of gold leaf, magic marker, black ink, and tea.

Drawing cues from Ober's examinations of American cultural identity are Sasha Blanton's pair of defeated warships, "Disengaged I" and "Disengaged II." Together, they are innovatively installed, held up by two clips hanging from fishing wire that extends from the ceiling. The unframed works on paper float in front of an exposed brick wall, where they are susceptible to damage by an intentionally malicious act or accidental bump. The placement of the warships in such a precarious position makes Blanton's pieces particularly moving, and the titles not only reference the sinking status of the embattled ships but also perhaps point to cultural and social weaknesses as a whole and offer a cautionary tale: Things that appear invincible may actually be more vulnerable than imagined.

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