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Silas Marder Gallery Looks Anew At America

Originally Posted: December 09, 2008

Joan Baum

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The gallery was brightly lit on opening night as video's were projected onto the barn walls and facade after the sun went down. Photos by Silas Marder Gallery

Bridgehampton - Taking a reflective and sobering look at our country, particularly as it has been evolving over the last year, the Silas Marder Gallery has mounted an end-of-the-year exhibit that not only "spotlights" recent political and cultural events but reinterprets America's historical past in light of the present. This fascinating and unusual group show presents America as through a glass darkly but with playful wit and irony, suggesting "cautious optimism." As Marder says, "despite the darkness and confusion of the current national mood," the hope is that through recognition of still unrealized promises and dubious environmental policies, reform may still be possible. It's significant, however, that amid all the bold-color, mixed-media critiques only one small piece - unframed, unheralded, almost unnoticed - clearly expresses faith in that expectation. Find it?

"Frederick Douglass" by John Morse

This is no heavy trip, however. Setting a lighter tone, a one-minute video projected on the gallery barn's north wall greeted visitors on opening day once the sun went down. The clip shows Jim Henson's American Bald Eagle muppet, Sam, in the voice of Joe McCarthy, sounding forth against all the "weirdos" who would save the environment at the expense of big business and the "glories of industry."

Another video, over the barn entrance, a projection from the nursery's hay wall, flashed images of atomic testing from the 1940s and 1950s. It's not an "in-your-face exhibit, but the message is clear," says Silas Marder. Of course, he trusts, it's even clearer - and effective - inside. It is. A sound track looping through some Ellington, Lennon, Armstrong, Civil War marches, and Native American songs ushers visitors in.

Arguably, the most jaw-dropping pieces in the entire show belong to John Morse - colorful collages, multiple layers of paper strips and fragments, intricately applied as highlighted, dimensional portraits of historical figures as they typically appear in art and history books. These include Frederick Douglass, Susan B. Anthony, Lincoln, and Sitting Bull. The papers themselves, torn from various publications, are hardly random. Considering the subject matter and ingenious tattering process, it seems safe to say that the medium here is most definitely the message (even the artist's initials are done in collage).

Reinterpreting portraits of real people also engages Joe Saunders, an upper school student at Ross, and Marc Burckhardt, a highly accomplished painter of the unexpected. Saunders's series of mug-shot graphite drawings of named American criminals from the late 1800s offers another view of the heroic West. The faces, carefully drawn, are set against acrylic backgrounds - a burglar, a pickpocket, a shoplifter, a confidence man, a forger, a receiver of stolen goods. Curiously, several drawings suggest more recent political figures (Stalin, Castro).

By contrast, Burckhardt takes on the aristocrats. His beautifully painted, cracked-canvas acrylics on wood satirically imitate historical portraits and deepen the exhibition's jaundiced view of history. An elaborately coiffed "Heroine" would seem unaware that spring flowers emerge from a skull in "Momento Mori" ["remember, you are mortal"]; an arrogant "Elder" could easily be the husband of the woman in "Bethrothed," whose braided hair coils around her mouth and torso, already trapped.

Nearby, Oliver Peterson's mixed media and acrylic on canvas "Birth of A Nation" presents the exhibit theme in red white and blue. A large black star is positioned across from stripes that seem to be bars. A textured central swath of white, the "fabric" of society, is given central place.

Untitled 'Turkey' by Mica Marder

Considering the recent holiday Mica Marder's mixed-media turkeys, beautifully rendered here, make an uncomfortable statement. All are in profile and face in the same direction, but with different painted-body textures and head colors, their destiny identical. Keeping original draft lines - erasures and over-painting in pastel and pigment - Mica creates a sense of tenuous existence, at least safe in art.

An endangered species is also manifest in Cole Gerst's three-color split fountain print "In The Shadow." A deer stark in black, is surrounded by black birds, branches and leaves, as all are set against a background that descends ominously from yellow to fire red. What does it mean? Check out the lower left, where two electrical outlets, small but deadly, explain.

As humans despoil nature, creatures in the wild may be seen to respond in kind. For the fine Fine Artist and neo-expressionist painter, John Alexander, seen here in satiric mode, "Blind Ravens," desperately voracious, bite into apples that bleed onto the ground. And when destructive human activity becomes natural, nature dies, as Edward Burtynsky's small but superb aerial C-Print, "Oil Fields #27" dramatically illustrates. It's of a Texas oil field where coiled orange pipelines, like alien tentacles, stretch out over brown fields and hills.

Let Alison Byrnes have the last word, for she reaches way back to Roman history for her colorful folk-art, oil-on-panel critiques. "Factory/Farm's" happy yellow sections contrast with the worn and brown faces of workers. The situation is far from the Greek ideals that inspired our Republic, a diminution implied by the mini-Parthenon perched at the very top of the picture. "Galba As Kennedy" (before the moment of assassination) suggests how imperial the U.S. presidency had already become. And in "Parallel Lives: Emperor Claudius and President Zachary Taylor," Byrnes caricatures the excess in the administration of our 12th president.

 • "America" will remain on view through Jan. 12. Silas Marder Gallery is located at 120 Snake Hollow Road, Bridgehampton.

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Guest (OP) from Sag Harbor says::
Thanks for the great review.
Dec 9, 2008 3:34 pm


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