One of the most interesting things about some of the St. Claude Avenue-area galleries is their experimental, non-commercial aspect. Most traditional galleries need to generate enough sales to pay the staff and the rent, whereas volunteer co-op spaces like Antenna and Good Children have more freedom to improvise. The latter's international group show, The Great White, illustrates the difference this can make. Ranging from big-and-bold to intimate graphics, it's a show that explores the paradoxes of war and peace, truth and lies as well as 'power and its perversion."
Those paradoxes are immediately evident in the piece for which the exhibit is named, curator Srdjan Loncar's The Great White, a white-on-white American flag that takes its name from the fiercest shark in the sea. Yet white is also universally associated with peace. A New Orleanian from the former Yugoslavia, Loncar says the idea was born following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. Having left a war-torn land, Loncar said he had no wish to be mentally or physically involved in any more conflict and that (as far as he's concerned) peace is the only real victory.
No less paradoxical but far more subtle, or even elusive, is Mayumi Hamanaka's Galaxy, a group of four amorphous white forms like oversize jigsaw puzzle pieces. Up close they suggest topographical contour maps, but the contours are layers of paper cutouts secured by tiny metal studs, lending a hint of origami. Hamanaka says the earth consists of layers of formerly living things, including humans, and that Galaxy was cobbled together from 'a group photo of German soldiers in World War II." She also collaborated with partner Taro Hattori in a series of large photos of naked Asian guys with hands behind their heads titled Japanese Males Surrender. Described as 'A contract of unstable power relationships that have reached a critical point," it's as dramatic as it is enigmatic. More clearly symbolic " literally " is Hattori's Plexiglas submachine gun, M-249. Its deadly contours, rendered in transparent plastic, become an ethereal expression of light, a signifier of transformation.
The boldest work is Rajko Radovanovic's New Altars of the Temple of Happiness, a wall-sized panel with a group photo of Yugoslav army officers with faces painted red " the color of war " and marked with black crosses in accordance with Balkan tradition regarding the dead. Once cheered by state propaganda for its persecution of ethnic minorities, the army, like Yugoslavia itself, no longer exists. Radovanovic says he regards identity as a spiritual rather than a geopolitical issue. In contrast, the most intimate works in the show are the surreal drawings of Ukranian artist Yevgeniy Ampleyev, a series of twisted tableaux of human and animal figures engaged in whimsically violent contortions that evoke the perverse cruelty of war minus the military structure. Strange, biting stuff. With its extreme contrasts of scale, intimacy, boldness and subtlety, Great White is a provocative exploration of the darkly martial side of the psyche.
No such cohesion exists at the Elemental 3 expo at Home Space, but there is a thematic link to the White show in Takako Uemora's surreal painting, Game, where naked boxers walk the rink ropes as if they were high wires as judges wear bags over their heads. Marin Dearie's expressionistic painting, Audition, almost suggests a Ralph Steadman approach to anime illustration with strange subliminal messages, but actually reflects a unique visual vocabulary in its own right. And Regina Scully, with the economy of a Zen drawing, renders a dichotomous world that seems to question, like the old song, where have all the flowers gone? The styles here cover the waterfront, but the news is that Home Space is increasingly becoming a real presence in the art scene.
- Srdjan Loncar's fabric sculpture, Great White, melds the color of deadly sharks and world peace into an eloquent expression of geopolitical paradox.