Molding Mutant Colors Into More and Less Subtle Art

11/10/2010 4:00 AM |

On opening night of Kenny Scharf and Dearraindrop’s new exhibition at The Hole, a giant inflatable hot dog floats above the Soho gallery’s entrance. Cartoonish smiley faces have been added to both the bun and wiener. The grinning junk food underlines the intergenerational collabo at hand, a timeworn icon of the New York streetscape adorned with emoticons. Much tidier than the works inside, its bold, stretched, monochrome forms are more akin to Jessica Snow’s show of paintings a few blocks away at Jen Bekman. Both exhibitions deploy color less as one formal property of artworks among many, and more as the basic materials from which they’re crafted. Snow’s approach is measured and subtle, while Scharf and Dearraindrop revel in unbridled polychromatism.

Snow, who’s based in San Francisco, experiments with color in flat, abstract acrylic compositions that occasionally, fleetingly resemble something—a necklace, maps, landscapes. The 13 new pieces at Jen Bekman (through December 5) are marked by splotches of bright paint, seemingly amorphous but in fact very sharply delineated. In “Commas, Denoting Points, in Between” (2009), what could be punctuation points or sperm cells float up or perhaps sink, causing ripples of kaleidoscopic hues. The piece that gives the exhibition its title, “Multiple Plot Points” (2010), illustrates the bizarre tonal logic of her work succinctly. A form made up of horizontally stretched ovals of color vaguely resembles a plume of smoke in the shape of South America. Each rounded, single-toned shape overlaps with at least one other, but where the two hues meet the result isn’t the sum of their parts—a dark gray and a light brown oval meld near the top of the painting, producing a startling shade of pink. Snow’s subtle tonal alchemy gives her smooth compositions unpredictable dynamism.

At The Hole, Scharf and Dearraindrop also mold raw color with unlikely results in their collaborative show Hot Glue Hullabaloo (through December 4), turning the hallway-like gallery into a progressively more enveloping and overwhelming boy-cave of neon-hued nostalgia. Scharf, an L.A. native but longtime Brooklynite and staple of the Downtown scene (he was a friend, collaborator and roommate of Keith Haring’s), paints satirically sweet compositions incorporating graffiti, advertising, comics and cartoon imagery. The five-member Virginia Beach-based collective Dearraindrop have a much messier aesthetic that tends to overwhelm Scharf’s tidy canvases in these close quarters—their featured works are also much greater in scale and number. Co-founders Joe Grillo and Laura Grant make an especially strong showing, she with pointy neon abstractions on canvas that could be cropped from an 8-bit video game, he with spectacular pop culture mash-up paintings, collages and totemic sculptures of thrift store toys fused into hydra-like monsters with colorful glue gun plastic. Those intricate monuments populating the second of the show’s three rooms, like the nearly seven-feet-tall “The Phuque Off Temple” (2010), hint at the uncanny den ahead.

Grillo, Grant and Scharf’s room-sized installation “Cosmic Cavern Hole” (2010) caps the show, a black-lit grotto whose walls and ceiling are completely covered in old toys, dotted with a few small artworks, and given breath by fans and fluttering neon strips. The glowing delirium delights, like visiting your inner child in a temple built out of our collective nostalgia. The resulting visual pleasure is extreme, but also much more indulgent than Snow’s deft subversions of the laws of color. Your adolescent and adult art tastes all sated within ten blocks!

(images courtesy The Hole, Jen Bekman Gallery)