Tuesday, July 17, 2007

In the art world, why is there such a pervasive stigma regarding galleries that are also frame shops, or frame shops that are also galleries?

H & F Fine Arts would do well to ask themselves that question...and then take a long, hard look at their floorplan. The exhibition space is actually quite nice--except for the fact that it's more or less open-ended; gallery traffic flows easily into a frame area on the lefthand side of the space. Follow the contours of the current A.B. Miner exhibition, and you'll suddenly find yourself facing a couple of undistinguished, unrelated paintings--samples, presumably, positioned directly across from the framing counter. A display rack with illustrated books sits in the corner.

Whoops! Where did my show go? Oh, it's back there.

It may require only a small mental set adjustment to tune out this part of the room and focus on the opposite end--but it's definitely still a distraction.

Context and considered intervals between works: They mean everything in clean exhibition design.

I'm not suggesting that the frame counter spoils the place with some whiff of unwelcome commerce. That's just silly. Commercial galleries are all obviously commercial concerns. They do business; they have offices, and those offices may or may not be fully segregated from the artworks.

Sometimes the constraints of a space mean the office is the venue--Andrea Pollan certainly manages to make that conceit work. Then again, a desk is a tad less distracting than a floor-to-ceiling display of molding samples.

But usually there needs to be a clear delineation of these spaces, even if they open onto one another. I'm thinking of Conner Contemporary, where exhibitions often do spill into a little back room. But to enter that room, you have to pass through a little S-bend. It's not really a different space, but that bend does provide a real, defining psychological limit.

So how about it, H&F? One more well-placed freestanding wall could do a lot.

On to the exhibition. Chimera is a mix of early/emerging artist career survey and self-contained project. Though it includes paintings dating back to 2001, the show essentially narrates painter and Hirshorn assistant curator A.B. Miner's recent journey through gender confusion and self-mortification to eventual transgender transformation--from she to he.

A typical Miner painting is smallish--five, six, or eight inches square. It's invariably a self portrait, in which Miner's face and nude or partly nude body are grotesquely distorted, pushed into the foreground to fill the limits of the square format. Only a few patches of negative space are left, typically filled with flat sap green or glossy black enamel. It's a non-strategy, as far as composition goes, but given Miner's singular pusuit, it makes sense.

Miner has evidently always had a strong grasp of both color harmony and the physical properties of paint. In his paintings, he uses the sort of choppy facture one expects to see cascading across one of Cezanne's apples. Miner models his face with greasy rectangular dollops, each placed with certainty and evident relish. Invariably, light is broken down into a neo-Fauvist patchwork of complementary accents: a bit of washed-out reddish-violet here; a cool yellow-green there.

Despite the Thiebaud-esque color and creamy paint film surface, these images are invariably flat--thanks to the compressed pictorial space and the use of clearly delineated, over-determined line. This has usually been my first misgiving about Miner's work in the past: That cartoonish line, those exaggerated meandering curves. Certainly Thiebaud used that sort of hyper-real illustrator's clarity in his work. But in this case, the line sometimes detracts from the power of Miner's content. The loopy flourish of a red vein, making its transit across a smooth, perfectly white eyeball; the incised dark curve of a wrinkle running across his forehead--these overstatements seem at odds with the sculptural paint stroke, the keen sense of what light and color do in space.

This exhibition may have changed my mind, but not because of any particular painting. The best pieces here turn out to be the ones I assumed I'd have the least use for: the drawings.

Denuded of that familiar academic lusciousness, Miner's line becomes a kind of reportage. I'm not suggesting that Miner is--or should be--a cartoonist, but as I examined the four hair growth studies (each titled They told me to work bigger...so there, a funny dig at the giant white mat surrounding each 6" by 4" ink sketch) I began to think about Joe Sacco's powerful comic book journalism. In these drawings, little red apostrophes designating hair follicles march their way across balooning expanses of belly fat, thighs, and crotches, which are described by wavering black ribbons of ink.

The two untitled, uncharacteristically large charcoal drawings presented here lack a certain amount of modulation--all of the looming dark shapes and dramatic plunging arcs are resolutely vigorous--but the rubbing out and restatements of thick defining contours and the definition of space through a few large verticals and diagonals are both pretty wonderful.

And so it turns out that the best painting here is also the most dependent on line, and possibly the flattest--in more ways than one. From There to Here is a long, thin rectangular study of Miner's chest, post-op. Clouds of angry red dashes follow fresh incisions across the chest and around each niipple; scratchy, thin black lines indicate patches of recently emerged chest hair. All is framed by white bandages being pulled apart in the left and right hand margins. If Miner continues to find ways to harness this sort of immediacy and directness, he's really on to something.


Blogger Lenny said...

"The best pieces here turn out to be the ones I assumed I'd have the least use for: the drawings."


"least use for?????"

Next time I see you I'm gonna punch you out.



6:25 PM  
Blogger jhcudlin said...

I said that because initially I thought Miner's line was the weakest thing about his paintings...but then I saw that line without, y'know, paint attached.

Not because I don't like drawing, silly!

7:33 AM  
Blogger Lenny said...

Ah! Sorry! My bad - now that makes sense...

10:00 AM  

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