Wicked Artsy: Whatever Remains

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02/26/2009 4:30 PM |

Wicked Artsy is Benjamin Sutton’s column about art, and wickedness.

Three exhibitions on the Lower East Side through late March take something that’s no longer there as their subjects. Though the artists work at drastically different scopes — the end of a relationship, the shock of a death, the detritus of a culture — the satisfaction in their work isn’t only in fleshing out the thing or event whose aftershock we’re witnessing. All three use this way of presenting their subjects to expand their scope until it includes the entire surrounding social structure. With their cultural leftovers, these artists also ask: “What kind of society leaves these kinds of scars?”

In Fernando Mastrangelo’s exhibition at Kumukumu, these scars are the bittersweet broken hearts of a culture whose ideals of romance are bound to an economy of consumption. Mastrangelo’s LoVE is a smoke made with the fume of sighs… (from Romeo and Juliet) incorporates an anchor, raft and the shattered lower half of a female body (pictured above) all made from cast sugar, turning the narrow gallery into a shipwreck scene. Along the gallery walls, two hearts made of sugar, a light installation spelling “LoVE” and a series of heart-shaped tattoos framed in cast sugar evoke alternately permanent and ephemeral symbols of love and romance. Throughout, Mastrangelo underlines the idea that cultural concepts of love are constantly questioned and confirmed through cycles of consumption and display. In a climate that encourages the most syrupy sweet, least nutritious relationships, too much love does the body harm.

Bodies are another privileged site for guessing the effects of cultural forces in photographer Andrea Tese’s exhibition Boats Against the Current (from F. Scott Fitzgerald) at Heist Gallery. In slumped postures, scarred skins, anxious stares, killed animals, emptied rooms and stiff bodies, she shows the effects of the casual violence we constantly work to integrate into daily experience. Where Mastrangelo’s sweet critique leaves room for play, Tese’s dreary realism — with muted colors and a mix of classically balanced and more anxious, uneasy compositions — highlights the hurt left after more or less distant traumas. There’s little sense of hope in these scenes of intimate pain, unless it’s in the act of looking and understanding itself. Tese’s photographs force viewers to contemplate the violence of a culture constantly telling itself that its benefits outweigh its costs.

As Tese’s dark visions sink in, we might start to imagine the post-apocalyptic scenes painted by Kirsten Deirup in her exhibition Dogsbody at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery. On expansive desert plains and empty stages, her surreal imagery ponders what scars our extinct civilization will leave on the arid landscape. Her work is not just imaginative time-travel though. Deirup’s dilapidated temples, altars and sets ask what will be left of our systems of representation without us – from biblical stories and classical myths to narratives of science, art, pop culture and advertising and the very organization of pictorial planes and perspective. By staging the end of our society and its ways of life, her art suggests a qualitative assessment of our values: “What cultural values are truly durable, and what priorities will only lead to more pain and injury?”

Fernando Mastrangelo: Love Is a Smoke Made With the Fume of Sighs
at Kumukumu, 42 Rivington St (between Eldridge and Forsyth), until March 22

Andrea Tese: Boats Against the Current at Heist Gallery, 27 Essex St (between Grand and Hester), until March 21

Kirsten Deirup: Dogsbody at Nicelle Beauchene Gallery, 163 Eldridge St (between Delancey and Rivington), until March 22