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Eye Opener

The debut show at Current makes the most of its big new space

UNDERWATER CURRENT: The submerged vantage of Rachel Sitkin's 'Nearly Weightless' is just one view of the human form taken in Current's opening show.

By Ned Oldham | Posted 12/22/2004

At Current through Jan. 6

Current, 30 South Calvert St., call for appointments: (443) 415-2139

Nearly every piece in the opening show at Current, the choice new downtown gallery, holds its weight in a well-installed and inviting exhibit. Tall street-front windows and high ceilings give the space big-city curb appeal, and the collective of 15 artists who made a successful pitch to the Downtown Partnership for a six-month—and ultimately, one hopes, longer—stint in the city-owned location seem, for the most part, to have a strong sense of how best to exploit the space.

The 1500-plus-square-foot space allows good viewing for the larger paintings, and the three floor pieces are gracefully arranged to draw visitors along a curving trajectory toward the back of the gallery. Margaretta Grazier’s “Serpent,” a hooded cloak of rich organic reds draped over a thin, black-nylon-wrapped female mannequin, drips cushioned snake-forms and flows onto the floor at the front of the gallery. Beyond, two silk-screened and dyed-silk hanging pieces by Ana Zavaljevski and Michele Clark form an open triangle with “Serpent.” Zavaljevski’s elegant “Passing” suggests intricate, bloody Rorschach-like forms on ethereal, bandage-like strips, producing an effect that connects strongly with “Serpent.”

Further back, Clark’s eye candy “Oh, That Silly Sally,” with its transparent, billowing hot-pink-on-whites between pastel yellows, blues, and pinks in organically imperfect designs, ties in with Dale Ihnken’s untitled psychedelic light sculpture, an hemi-cylindrical tube of semi-transparent rice-paper-like vinyl on a frame of more than a dozen hemispherical supports. Dripped with colors that seem to draw on the palette of the toy section at Target, Ihnken’s piece suggests a spattered esophagus.

Two large paintings, one in front by Ryan Jedlicka and one in back by Seth Adelsberger, connect via a similar toy-section palette, consisting of Barbie-eye blue, Barbie-flesh tan, and the clashing of hot pink alongside chartreuse. Jedlicka’s strong, abstract acrylic-on-canvas “Don’t Look Mailbox” juxtaposes a catatonic, droid-like mailbox figure with what resembles a layered, rain-like flow of fluid-filled surgical gloves to create a disconcerting ambiguity between the sentient and the inanimate. “Kipple Heap,” Adelsberger’s lively visual riff on a Philip K. Dick coinage from “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep” (“kipple” is trash), suggests at once an oil refinery, a landfill, and a mass of dirty, discarded adult and children’s toys. The heap, built of cartoon and grade-school-drawing heads, an occasional ball-pointed word, and a recurring diamond motif that looks like an extended car jack, stands inside a white outline that looks like the top of a soft-serve ice-cream cone, and creates a horizon comparable to a mountain peak. Doll-flesh-colored tan circles float above the heap like smoke rings blown from an android sex-worker’s asshole.

Dominating a rear side wall, Zachary Thornton’s life-sized oil-on-canvas portrait, “Rosie and Claire,” recalls the portraits of John Singer Sargent (and likewise, the American living-room version of family portraits in oil) in its composition, and Francisco Goya in its unflattering realism. In conveying a sense of unqualified humanity, “Rosie and Claire” succeeds where Erin Fostel’s albeit beautifully drawn figure in charcoal, “Which?” falls short. Also life-sized, “Which?” works a clever concept—a woman dressing, with different shoes on either foot and partially reflected in a full-length mirror—but feels like it should be one of several small drawings or paintings.

Two other paintings, Rachel Sitkin’s “Nearly Weightless” and Emily Bradford’s “Dropping the Ball,” explore the human figure in impressionistic and expressionistic modes, respectively. Sitkin’s painting is an underwater view in lake-colored greens of nudes in Piscean composition: in the foreground right, a female submerged to the neck, her head indistinct above the surface; in the deeper and darker green field left, another figure, perhaps nude, perhaps female, feet up, torso disappearing into dark-green depths. Bradford’s “Dropping the Ball” feels a bit rushed but also manages a Munch-like intensity, especially in its arm and hand, which hold a ball in a talon-like death-grip.

Alyssa Dennis deftly handles shifting planes in two slightly askew renderings of a Victorian beach house; the quasi-spiritual figures above the long horizon of the doubled house don’t quite lead the viewer clearly enough into the world the houses seem meant to project. Sarah Orner’s more succinct, untitled, abstract oil-on-paper, with its misty, chaotic symmetry of fire-reds and night-sky blue-black, seems to finagle a rainy sunset’s beauty in what might also be the end of the world.

The collective at Current have for this opening exhibit made the most of their space by keeping it simple and uncluttered. Vicki Brown, Adam Pollard, and Jedlicka work the brand-name angle (it’s “Tricky”) with silk-screened apparel bearing clever slogans and images, and the collective intends to build a reception and merchandise counter, probably in the back of the space. They also intend to impermanently divide the space into two rooms, to showcase each member’s work exclusively—in effect, two “one-man shows” at a time—within the coming six months. Which means we can look forward to a new Current exhibit about every three weeks.

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