This week: the poetics of space and crumbling structures at Current Space, a strong sense of play at Cardinal, and open-ended explorations of femininity at Waller Gallery.

 

Sarah Hunter, “Waterfront,” oil on canvas, 2019 and Cody Graham, “Clutch (II),” graphite on paper, 2019

 

on tender ground, through September 7
Current Space, 421 N. Howard St., Baltimore 21201
Gallery Hours: Friday and Saturday, noon–4 p.m.

In the vertically oriented television screen of Esin Aykanat Avci’s “Hand Destroyed,” a hand teases a series of dollhouse-sized objects above a tank of water for a second or so before dropping them in. The hand relinquishes the unfired clay forms, some geometric, many of them architectural—steeples, brick wall fragments, tiny houses or attics—one after another, their fragile bodies cloud up the tank with bubbling clay dust. Torturously, at one point the hand dips an object into the water instead of merely dangling it above before releasing. The object starts to disintegrate, only partially submerged. 

Both the built and natural environment are sensitively excavated, troubled, and touched throughout this group show, which features nine artists curated by Jacob Zimmerman. Wesley Berg’s minimalist illustrations depict spatial dynamics and tiny structures with few efficient lines, ant-sized and imaginative somehow in the manner of Los Carpinteros. They delight even next to the detail, precision and believability of Erin Fostel’s sweeping charcoal desert landscape drawing and more intimate, dark-lit, cozy interior drawing. 

It is hard for me to ponder the poetics of space and hold onto moments of peace and beauty in such a stomach-churning time of global and local upheaval. I get stuck on the ones that feel knotted. Sarah Hunter’s landscape painting “Waterfront” offers a visual analogue to Aykanat Avci’s video work: a steep hill is stacked up with conglomerated gray-brown rocks and bodily red cells and globules. A field of cloudy smoke obscures the hill’s flat green top and above that haze, an orange, conical flame appears, giving the whole scene the feel of fantasy, of Moses waiting for God to deliver his commandments at Mount Sinai. That stocky flame also feels like a Sims plumbob, and the whole structure, bound up in delicate rope stretching off the canvas edges, seems like it could be dissolved just as quickly and easily as those clay columns and buildings. (Rebekah Kirkman)

 

First of All, Farewell at Cardinal Space (photo by Michael Bussell)

 

First of All, Farewell, through Aug. 27
Cardinal Space, 1758 Park Avenue, Baltimore 21217
Gallery hours: Tuesdays, 5:30–8:30 p.m., and Saturdays, noon–4 p.m. 

First of All, Farewell plays in contradiction. At Cardinal Space, Melissa Webb and John Ralston V explore the push and pull between hard surfaces and soft underbellies, and the thin line between natural and artificial worlds.  

The show is also, as the name suggests, a goodbye. Webb is soon moving to Detroit to complete her MFA in Fiber at the Cranbook Academy of Art. As an artist and a curator (she has been the Exhibitions Manager at School 33 Art Center since 2014), Webb has been a long-time integral member of the arts community. 

Webb’s background in costume-making is evident in the rich textures of tulle, embroidery, and artificial flowers she weaves throughout her overflowing wall hangings. In “Prairie Simulacrum I,” green strings of fabric hang from a lattice of pussy willow and garden hose, creating a kind of craft-store swamp monster. Ralston works in rougher materials such as house paint and resin, but the artists’ sensibilities meet in collaborative works such as “Man Crush” and “Angle of the Dangler,” in which colorful doilies sit embedded in cracked paint and epoxy resin, encircled by an antique embroidery hoop. 

Of the 12 pieces in the show, five are collaborations and seven are solo works tied together by a palette of greens, purples, pinks, and yellows. While one might guess that the goopy, shiny mass, “Flopagalopagos,” is the individual work of Ralston, or that the interwoven grid of cattails, synthetic raffia, and various fabrics, “Ode to an Erstwhile 10 x 12” Swamp,” is by Webb, the distinction between their individual styles is not hard-lined. In other words, their work complements each other, and it’s clear through the vivid colors and harmonious approach that the two enjoyed collaborating.  

“The GenderiZer” employs Webb’s familiar grid structure of sticks but embeds them in Ralston’s signature gypsum powder and paint. The left of the piece is all cracked baby blue paint with rubber tubing sticking out, the right powder pink with tender fake flowers. There’s a sense of play at hand, like this show was an excuse for two friends to hang out and make each other laugh. (Nora Belblidia)

 

Desmond Beach, “Jamiela,” plaster and fabric, 2019

 

mad rad soft, through Aug. 31
Waller Gallery, 2420 N. Calvert St., Baltimore 21218
Gallery Hours: Thursday–Saturday, noon–5 p.m.

I think when people die, their soul is still out there, somewhere, in a way, in a breeze, in a thing that they created and left for you, in the look or manner or style of other people you meet—maybe. I am still figuring it out. Desmond Beach’s two sculptures on view in this show immediately struck me with a kind of ancestral connection, where knit blankets that have been plaster-cast over human forms. In “LaToya,” the blanket was draped over someone’s lower half, seated, their legs splayed and hands folded in their lap; the other, “Jamiela,” is also seated, with the blanket wrapped around their whole body. The blanket in these sculptures becomes a vessel or shell, like an object for a spirit to return to and inhabit every now and then.

Darius Johnson’s photo subjects, typically queer/genderqueer people of color, are each in their own elements: like Nicholas who, in a classic black dress and spiky pumps surrounded by equally tasteful midcentury modern furniture and a Malcolm X poster, should be on a magazine cover. Ana Teixeira’s photo subjects seem equally fully themselves, Nuyorican punks and goths smokin’ weed in the skate park, their tattooed and exquisite long nails flipping us all the bird.

In these various works on display, there’s a tangential approach to the show’s theme, celebrating the radicality of “femme-ness” or femininity more generally. And that’s valuable, because it is the year 2019 and we don’t need another show that boxes folks into any kind of neat n’ tidy organizational strictures based on what we think of when we think of gender. Through sculpture, photography, painting, video work, and wide-ranging subject matter—from the physical performance of gender to spiritual practice to heady postcolonial theory—mad rad soft helpfully doesn’t tell the viewer what or how to think about femininity. It lays down a few threads, so maybe you can weave in your own. (RK)

 


 

Featured image: Ana Teixeira “La Nuyorican”; Wesley Berg “No. 51”; Melissa Webb “Ode to an Erstwhile 10 x 12″ Urban Swamp”

Photos from First of All, Farewell by Michael Bussell.

All other images by the authors.