Thinking about exhibitions really involves thinking about space. Greene Naftali Gallery in Chelsea has space and Sima Familant, the curator of A Place Called Lovely, knows how to use it.
Video is a major component of Familant’s exhibition, with works by Sadie Benning, Julie Becker, Paul Pfeiffer, Jonathan Horowitz, and Sean Snyder. Large monitors, miniature projections and home-cinema style presentations balance the space beautifully. In a reflective way, these artists deal with issues such as the pressure to conform, teenage escapist fantasies, the macho denial of emotion, or the mindless and often pointless repetition of modern work-life.
Works in other media vary the dynamics of the exhibition. Slowing the viewer down, for example, are Sean Landers’ simply rendered but informative transcontinental genealogy and Maki Tamura’s sickly-sweet an subversive fairytale icons. Alex Bagg’s terrifying vision of a world where the words we speak are trademarked or subject to copyright provides quick satire. The standard fare of monitors or works on paper is broken dramatically by Mark Bradford’s piece, Lot’s Wife, which boldly occupies one corner of the room. Bradford has painted the wall a soothing sky blue, covered it with a column of plexiglass and over-written it with text. Adolescent sniggers cannot fail to be expressed when reading phrases like “Can you feel it, is it straight?” Such touching insecurities however, amplified by a prescriptive society, are rarely manifested.
Jack Pierson’s Johnnie Ray has a double edge – attempting to comment on the link between Ray’s lack of fame and his sexuality – the collage of letters could just as easily refer to Ray’s hearing impairment or his involvement in a music industry which denied white men in what was then “black music.” Whatever the reason for Ray’s inability to access the power structures of popular culture, the work reminds us of the inequalities of present-day American life and portends a chilling future of an intolerant and unforgiving society.
What Familant proposes in bringing these artists together is a reality check in the face of the almost totalitarian optimism of modern American society. Such a thematic is not highly complex or challenging, but the work that Familant has chosen to show brings maturity, subtlety, and depth to the project.
With confidence, Familant has successfully integrated the work of ten artists in such a way that each work retains its voice while adding to the whole. The gestalt effect leaves the viewer quietly amused, yet simultaneously melancholic. How is this achieved? A Place Called Lovely has a veneer of charm that conceals an ironic message – all things are not so great in the “Land of the Free.’