Wicked Artsy: Placeless Places

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02/12/2009 3:30 PM |

Wicked Artsy is Benjamin Sutton’s gallery round-up. He welcomes responses, tips and flowers via the comments.

Three installation artists with shows in Williamsburg right now have created spaces that are at once generic and highly specific. The effect of walking into their exhibitions is not unlike the Funhouse at a county fair, where the tweaking and subversion of every rule of architecture and design will make you hyper-aware of every "normal" space you visit for the following week.

The most extreme dislocation comes when walking into John Bjerklie’s surreal TV installation at Parker’s Box. It’s like a DIY version of Nam June Paik’s televisual landscapes, though Bjerklie’s vision is decidedly darker, more jagged and substitutes uncanniness for playfulness. Crafted out of plywood scraps and duct tape, the effect is somewhere between a forest of nightmares, subconscious cave and post-apocalyptic wasteland. Throughout, closed-circuit monitors show the artist’s performances and us, the bewildered viewer, exploring this strange new space.

At Slate Gallery, Chicago- and New York-based artist Bernard Williams takes an opposite approach, making the familiar strange with his black painted and studded sculptures and wall mountings. His rhinestone-covered primitive masks, for instance, not only underline Modern painters like Picasso’s enormous debt to African art, but also come off like a postcolonial revision of Damien Hirst’s diamond-encrusted skull, a new take on that ode to overdosing on conspicuous consumption. Meanwhile a wall-sized installation of black cutouts and signs referring to shameful passages in American history is deceptively simple. Williams seems to be asking what kinds of homes and nations we can expect to build on such unbalanced foundations.

Taking a lighter approach, Brian Dewan focuses on another "ism" with his installation at Pierogi, staging a retirement home sales pitch in a comfortably worn living room. Dewan’s creation, Williams’ Meadow, is an inanely totalitarian retirement community where attendees are sectioned off by intelligence and never allowed to go outdoors. (There is indoor kite flying, though!) Accompanying ink and watercolor works and silhouetted homes are an engaging commentary on generic architecture and the generic narratives they tend to house. The exhibition’s centerpiece, though, is a video about the fictional Williams’ Meadow retirement home, complete with audio commentary explaining its deranged organizing social theory. Though incredibly funny, Housed is also a subtle exposé on socialized ageism. You’ll never think of retirement communities the same way again.

John Bjerklie: When A River Changes Its Course at Parker’s Box (until February 22), 193 Grand St (between Bedford and Driggs Aves), Fri-Mon 1pm-7pm.

Bernard Williams: The Nighty-Nite Show at Slate Gallery (until March 1), 136 Wythe Ave (between North 8th and North 9th Sts), Fri-Mon 1pm-6pm.

Brian Dewan: Housed at Pierogi (until March 8), 177 North 9th St (between Bedford and Driggs Aves), Tue-Sun 11am-6pm.