Small Victories at School 33 Considers the Value of Repurposed Material

by Ikram Lakhdhar

 

Small Victories, a group exhibit housed in the main gallery of School 33, offers a unique medley of artistic interventions from sculpture, installation, video and collage curated by visionary creative laborer José Ruiz. The exhibit focuses on repurposed material; a return to simple objects and messages by tracing nature and industrial ephemera.

Traditionally an annual juried summer show, Small Victories is a curation exercise that deals with the challenges faced by the contemporary curator, as well as a study of elegant display with ready-made ‘objets d’art’ in a new and decidedly non-elitist context.

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Tasked to select from a myriad pool of options, Ruiz was determined to conduct studio visits with all the chosen artists, allowing for a critical dialogue and to consider this show as a platform to try something new, or to present works that haven’t necessarily fit into other shows. Furthermore, Ruiz shied away from the curbing ‘one wall one artist approach’ to engage in a creative game forming a meaningful iteration that is in itself a work of art.

Standing alone, the works selected are each impressive, but perhaps what is more interesting is the bold relationship that ties them to each other. Ruiz confirms that “… This relationship between experience and meaning causally constructs humble yet sincere artworks that run perpendicularly away from the narrow parallels of abstraction and figuration.” Small Victories tells a story of the impact of curation to generate new contexts and meanings.

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Set in a dreamy pink visual field, “We sang to the cake” #3 invites the viewer to taste the sweet center of New York-based artist Mark Joshua Epstein’s visual composition, masterfully juxtaposing ink, watercolor, acrylic and colored pencil on paper, and creating a vibration of concocted desires. Epstein gently captures movement and space in an eclectic collage of euphoric colors, describing organic shapes and goofy squiggles. Mounted adjacent to Epstein’s work is “Eolith”, a small sculpture by Kyle Kogut that seamlessly blends wax, steel, fabric and denim. A cross and candle ascend the object to the status of a totem while the cool blend of fabric and denim evokes the everyday and the mundane.

An acute look of the future is evoked in “Untitled (Upholstery)”, a sculpture of folded plush tufts of felt wool by Mary Claire Ramirez. This piece brims with inspired gestural curves reminiscent of minimalist artist Robert Morris, where otherworldly folds exude the artist’s satirical and edgy sense of fashion.

Similarly, Frid Branham has created soft-woven, discretely flamboyant handkerchiefs bearing stamps of American artist Clyfford Still. The color fields in “Dimensional Planes”, along with the cashmere eucalyptus palette evoke a lingering intimacy, like a cotton caress steeped in precious liquids.

Grabbing the viewers’ attention through the clear distance in their aesthetic styles, these ‘Prêt-à-Porter’ objects, shown together, give the impression of being gleaned from the world’s top flea markets.

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Brian Dunn’s “Pool Side” and “Blue Field” are a welcome a breath of fresh air, cool and discretely loyal summer nostalgia, providing a woody freshness to the gallery. Inhale deeply; you are in the middle of a Greek island. Dunn effortlessly creates his work from acrylic and enamel on steel in precious hues like topaz, international Yves Klein Blue, and pastels that eerily prolong a sensation of the embrace of water.

Staged in a sensational atmosphere next to “Pool Side”, Brian Davis suspends a glamorous wallflower chandelier to illuminate the white wall’s corner. Curator Ruiz placed these two objects in parallel to each other firing the viewer’s imagination by instigating tensions that concern leisure and domestic décor.

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Culminating in the space is a series of large sizzling colorful prints of a rabbit’s foot by artist Matthew Moore entitled, “Lucky Charm USA”. These iconic key chains are supersized and brought to life, rendered protagonists in a nostalgic interplay between meaning and pure aesthetics.

Strategically mounted on the lower half of the next wall is Portuguese artist Francisca Caravalho’s mixed media installation “Untitled (Monkey’s Raincoat)”. This piece counterbalances the striking colors in the “Charm” prints with a dark palette of acrylic and oil on plywood, exploring the absurdity of their arrangement and framing a versatile order that merely emanates from curatorial practices.

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Author Ikram Lakhdhar is a transnational writer and curator based in Washington D.C. She earned a BA in International Relations, a self-designed major in Arts and Politics, and a Museum Studies Certificate from Connecticut College. As Transformer’s E13: Discourse fellow, Ikram has been engaged in writing and programming to further the DMV art scene. She is currently in Malta participating at the Valetta Curatorial School. You can follow her on Instagram @Ikram_Lakhdhar

Small Victories was on display at School 33 main gallery from Friday, July 1 through Saturday, August 27th, 2016.

Photo Credit: Olivia Weise