See It In Black and White

Date April 30, 2007 at 10:00 PM

Publication THE magazine

Categories Performing Arts

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Linda Durham Contemporary
1101 Paseo de Peralta, Santa Fe

While the premise for April's presentation at Linda Durham Contemporary may not be much more than a convenient catchall for an off-season show (what gallery couldn't rummage around in storage and find sufficient material for a "black-and-white show"€?), the assemblage Durham presented was of such high caliber that her selections breathed considerable life into what otherwise could have been a rather pedestrian project.

Much of the show was given over to pure drawing, and as we all know, drawing is the touchstone of the plastic arts. Ruminating at Durham's, amidst a congeries of paintings, sculpture, assemblage, and conventional drawings, I recollected that Santa Fe's own John Sloan repeatedly told his pupils that "drawing and composition are the same thing."€ "Draw with the brush. Carve the form. Don't be carried away by subtleties of modeling and nice pigmentation at the expense of losing the form,"€ Sloan advised.

Moving from an arresting sculpture in pure, stygian graphite (one of those knockout, dark "Diamond"€ pieces by Peter Joseph, from which, as with black holes, "little light escapes"€) to a towering oil-and-wax diptych on canvas by Richard Hogan, any viewer ought to be able to see that both of these artists most likely captured his basic image or form in drawing on paper or canvas.

The two large canvases by Hogan, Rapunzel and Black Velvet, are abstract tone poems in close-hued black, white, and gray-with suave passages of taupe, mauve, and bronze-whose impact is very powerful precisely because of the artist's restrained palette, which permits the paintings to work almost wholly graphically. (This viewer, with a rather long memory of twentieth-century abstraction, saw distinct echoes of the shallow space and closely packed collaged canvases of Conrad Marca-Relli in the two Hogan tours de force.)

Looking somewhat like aerial photos of a dun-colored, wintry landscape where flat, biomorphic forms drift about or lock together like ice floes in black water, these canvases demonstrate that really accomplished abstraction can appear disarmingly effortless. It is as though Hogan was determined not to let us see him sweat, the compositions are so damnably suave and assured.

Mounting a show in black and white allowed Durham to give airing to the new young talent, Laura Scandrett, whom Durham discovered while teaching a gallerist issues course at Santa Fe Community College.

Scandrett appears to be pursuing some highly personal, elliptical, and allusive research in a weighty "Book of Knowledge,"€ since a number of her recent drawings are titled, like the one exhibited at Durham, Book of Knowledge, No. 9. In this instance, her composition pairs the rational and irrational in art and nature by contrasting an asymmetrical, gnarled tree trunk or vine, done in velvety blacks-reminiscent of the drawings of Van Gogh-against a phantom image of a great work of classical architecture-Rome's Pantheon, in point of fact. The essence of this pairing is the wild and willful nature of Nature-the contorted, ancient tree trunk-overlaid on the eminently rational forms of classic architecture.

For this viewer, the most riveting inclusion in Durham's black-and-white potpourri has to have been a bagatelle anyone could be forgiven for overlooking entirely: i.e. a small, cast-resin multiple created by the redoubtable Kiki Smith, entitled The Siren.

In addition to Smith's well-known preoccupation with the human figure (both its outer form and inner plumbing), I have always admired her interest in the more idiosyncratic byways of art history, like anatomical curiosities and mythological beasts.

In the case of The Siren, a simple, eight-inch-tall figure of a mythical harpy, half woman, half rapacious bird, Smith has resuscitated a very potent image from the bizarre bestiary of Art Nouveau or Symbolism, the femme fatale figure that beguiles and then destroys men.

Her Siren's song (which lures the hearer to destruction in the original myth) emanates from a tiny music box embedded in the base of the sculpture, a haunting snatch of piano music triggered by passing light or motion near the work of art. (The plaintive little phrase, rather like Proust's "Vinteuil Sonata,"€ a tinkling rivulet of sound composed by Donald Rubinstein, appropriately suggests the music of Debussy or Ravel.)

Smith's little dusky sphinx, to all intents and purposes a throwaway in the larger Durham exhibition, had as much resonance and presence as some far larger and more ambitious works of sculpture-like seeing a great Egyptian sphinx or chimera. Regrettably, before this viewer could whip out his checkbook, the work vanished from the shelf.

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