By JON PETRO
When I read a press release that includes words such as; “experiment,” “fusion,” and “collaboration” it’s hard for me to envision installation art without any new age rhetoric creeping into the back of my head. Maybe it’s just that I have such a long history with two-dimensional works that I can’t get my mind around any other genre. It’s a difficult task to read works of art in our current times, let alone works that attempt to break out of every known boundary, which is what you have happening at the Laconia Gallery’s most recent exhibition, “in FLUX”. As everyone who’s involved in the arts understands, nothing can be cutting-edge in the absence of the avant-garde. As I suppress my own artist’s baggage, I make my way through this exhibition with open eyes and open mind.
Curator Lisa Costanzo teams up Mark Schoening and Linda Price-Sneddon to “…create an installation that will pulse with the energy of both the individual and the collaboration.” The interesting part of this concept is that both artists worked together in this environment a week before the opening and will rework the space a week prior to its closing. One of two things can occur with this premise: first, if all the stars are in perfect alignment then this will be the preeminent art installation of its kind in history, or secondly, you will have the two artists marking off their own territory, which leads to a very poorly integrated exhibition. What you have happening here is something in between these two ideas. There are, of course, more variables to consider, but for the most part I never get the sense that these two uniquely stylistic artists ever came together, or more importantly, ever came apart, with any great success. If there are commonalities or dissimilarities then the curator should have exploited them to a much higher degree. For me, what you end up with is a difference in aesthetics.
Neon pom-poms, pipe cleaners, assorted colored masking tape and the usual craft store suspects versus Xerox copies of fractal designs, black ink and/or acrylic paint, some gray thread and spray foam insulation. I’ve seen the pipe cleaner art before, Lucky DeBellevue P.S.1 “New Art in New York Now” February, 2000. Not that all art needs to be new in its sense of material, but I truly believe that a piece of art should be clever enough to transcend its physical limitations. Unfortunately, Price-Sneddon’s contribution to the larger installation seems awkward and clumsy, which I attribute exclusively to her choice of materials. Her mixed media drawings in the foyer of the gallery are another story, they are strangely everything that you want from Price-Sneddon’s installation art but never get. There is a quality of fiction in these works on paper; believable fiction. Surreal at times, this is where Price-Sneddon finds her niche. I’m convinced that her drawings create a conceivable environment within the pictorial plane. This quality is noticeably absent in her contribution to the installation in the main gallery.
Mark Schoening manages to avoid the transitional pitfall mentioned above. Whether it’s one of his 8 small scale works (8”X10”) in the foyer, or his involvement with the installation, his work maintains a consistent presence. In juxtaposition to Price-Sneddon’s neon palette, Schoening’s works are monochromatic, which makes for a very dramatic presentation against the gallery’s white walls. When his work does venture off the wall, or floor, or ceiling, its starting point is a sprayed foam insulation pod that’s been painted black, with hints of gradation to a lighter value. Several lines of gray thread, running from the foam pods to a wall or ceiling, perfectly depict the line quality which is also present in his small scale works. One component of the installation that I found vexing is Schoening’s section of the back wall. Consisting of Xerox copies of fractal designs rigidly arranged on a grid pattern defined by the size and shape of the paper, the right side of the grid resembles a staircase leading down the gallery’s wall. Why rely on a grid if your intention was “…to leave the picture plane and wander through space…”? To this end, I do not believe Mark Schoening actually achieved his intention in the installation.
One possible reason why the cutting edge of art appears to be very dull today is because we are comfortable with the idea that everything is probably art. Truth be told, it’s just not true. I’m a firm believer in the idea that there is a need for art that is BAD, for no other reason than that it can help you to appreciate what GOOD art is. This idea isn’t directed at this exhibition, or the artists involved in this show, I’m just stating an observation based on what I’ve seen in my travels. I do think that what’s going on at the Laconia Gallery during the months of March and April is something that people should take serious notice of. For it, like people’s ideas about art, will change with time.
"in Flux" is on view through April 21 at Laconia Gallery.
All images are courtesy of the artists and Laconia Gallery.