They were ordinary odds and ends, pieces of everyday life, but when the surrealists got their hands on them they became objets trouves, "found objects" -- art made from junk. A bicycle wheel or even a urinal, taken out of context, became a mystery sculpture admirable for its purity of form. A teacup and scrap of fur became a fur-lined teacup, a tactile enigma. That was long ago, but the approach lives on in the work of Mark Grote, Neil Harshfield, Donald Lipski, Ross Lunz and John Salvest.
Lipski is widely known for his witty found-object sculpture. His two pieces here both utilize books. The title of one, Play Index 1953-1960, appears in gold gilt on the cover above three chrome steel levers of the sort seen on bathroom fixtures. In fact, they look like flush levers, a sly reference, perhaps, to Duchamp's famous urinal. The other, Funk & Wagnals, is made up of volumes of an encyclopedia, open at the middle and stacked vertically. Mounted on the wall, this suggests something like a bibliographic totem. Both of these works reflect Lipski's quirky aesthetic rectitude and notoriously dry wit.
Ross Lunz's stuff is more baroque and gothic, as we see in Sustenance, which at first suggests a sea urchin. But it's more disgusting up close, with sharp spines on one side and rows of molars surrounding a nasty pink maw on the other. Elements of Ingestion is like creep show tableware with knife, fork and plate elaborately cobbled from the bones of small animals. Very E.T. , the plate recalls a sunflower, only with spindly bones instead of petals. (You'll never look at chicken bones the same way again.) Mark Grote presents us with a wall of hanging things, each titled Object with a number behind it. They're things with odd shapes and funny finishes that look functional but aren't, in keeping with what Grote has been doing all along, manipulating associations and actually, I'm not sure what he's doing.
Neil Harshfield has done some otherworldly work in the past, but this time around it's mock antique hand tools like shovels and post-hole diggers with very weathered wooden handles. Their metal blades look odd, evanescent, because they've been replaced with glass replicas, setting up an intriguing contrast with the wood. When we learn the tools had been his late father's, the glass becomes a metaphor for life's fragility. But John Salvest takes us back to the realm of visual puns. In one piece, an old wooden school desk has a U.S. flag fashioned from gobs of red, white and blue chewed gum stuck to the bottom of the seat. In another, a medicine cabinet's door is opened wide to reveal rows of neatly ordered white and red pills spelling out Believe Your Pain. And then there's Pincushion, a dress form studded with zillions of round-headed pins to create a shimmering steel aura. Startling, it suggests a goth reprise of something Man Ray or DeChirico might have cooked up. A striking item in a highly respectable show that contains some intriguing surprises.
What does found object sculpture have to do with hip-hop? They both "sample" stuff that was already out there. Some hip-hop tries to "keep it real" by celebrating moronic mayhem, but there can also be moments of brilliance. The Hip-Hop: Art as Resistance show at Barrister's alludes to all of the above, starting with some nice old Willie Birch concoctions from the early 1990s, folk-artsy pastiches of ghetto scenes dotted with lots of obvious as well as obscure references spelled out in hand-scrawled text. The graffitti-inspired abstractions on cardboard by former break dancer Jeff Cook are gorgeous, somehow combining modernist formalism with street culture in works that mark a nexus between Master P, Franz Kline and Robert Motherwell. Paul Deo's painted pastiches of rappers, race heroes and con artists (Bush is a pimp) can be impressively electric, if not always consistent, reflecting the slippery, seething essence of hip-hop. But Denis Holt's abstract, graffiti-esque ruminations capture something grittier, darker and more mysterious. Maybe Holt senses that what really keeps something real is not the outer gesture itself but the inner truth of the impulse behind it.
- The shimmering steel aura of John Salvest's Pincushion, part of the Findings exhibit at the Diboll Art Gallery, is one of many intriguing surprises in the show.