[paintings at http://www.islandweiss.com/Salvaged/frames.html]
They say that artists see the future ahead of the rest of us. What does it mean then that the new show at Island Weiss Gallery is named “Salvaged?” The dollar is collapsing, the euro is collapsing even faster, Wall Street is under occupation and Washington is helpless to save us. Salvaged may be the word they'll use to describe what's left of our civilization when they finally get it all worked out.
That much said, “Salvaged” is a superb show, illustrating very well the excellent work currently coming out of The New York Academy of Art down in Tribeca. It's stuff you'd actually consider hanging on your own wall. (When was the last time you saw that in a Manhattan gallery?) The whole show is rich with the kind of old master craftsmanship that's so sadly absent from much of what's hanging nowadays.
The most impressive detail work is the painterliness of Dina Brodsky's enchanting miniatures. You sense at once this woman must have a whole can full of brushes with only one bristle each. This kind of concern with precision is out of fashion nowadays, and yet it's as engaging today as ever. Most notable is her “Farewell 5 Pointz,” a minutely exact rendering of throwaway, nickle-deposit empties, apparently just a pile of cans until you remember that the theme of the show is Salvaged. Also, as if to remind us that the pigeons will survive come what may, her “Union Square” offers an enchanting collection of miniature pigeon portraits (symbols of self), done in oil on mylar on plexiglas. The word miniature is no exaggeration – most of the pigeon portraits are a mere 2” x 2”, far from huge, and yet every one is a model of precision.
The Salvaged theme is found throughout the show. The catalog speaks of it as salvaging evidence of life after life is
ended, but real art always speaks on many levels at once, including the salvaging of society itself. One can scarcely believe that serious artists are or could ever be divorced from the reality afflicting the society around them. Heidi Elbers sensual self-portrait in a red negligee, for example, “Wishing I Could Wrap Them in Fur” isn't about erotica but instead features the artist's legs wrapped in bandages. Could the metaphor be more obvious? The official reason was a passing injury that Ms. Elbers actually experienced, but thematically the idea of depicting what remains after the damage is done comes through clearly. This thematic coherence speaks of a well-curated show.
Michelle Doll, whose portraits have long been a pleasure, was wisely included in the show, but her recent pieces like “Stole” and “Zephyr” have a darkness of hue and lighting that one doesn't remember in her earlier, more optimistic work. Likewise Peter Drake's “Shell Shock Study,” exactly what it sounds like, a portrait of contemporary man if ever there was one, frazzled, electrified, more skull than face. Ours is a time of gathering darkness and the artists sense it.
Maya Brodsky's (Dina's little sister) “Mendelsohn Family Reunion” seems so innocent until one realizes it's a group portrait of dead people. Likewise Mischa Rosnach's “St. Francis Saving the Eggplant,” in which the Saint's anguished face makes it plain that there's plenty more to that eggplant than just an eggplant, and Brian Drury's evocative but unpeopled paintings of an empty New York City. The artists see the future ahead of the rest of us, and what they're see is a salvaging. Salvaging after what? Which of us wants to try to guess? Maybe we should be stockpiling canned goods.
Tun Myaing, one of the curators of the show, also contributes some fine, enigmatic oils of machinery, and two portraits of “The Rat King,” although they appear to be more a study of the Rat King's remains than a portrait of the Rat King himself. Myaing paints a stark picture of the future but metaphorically it's incisive. If the Rat King himself isn't going to make it, who will? Bonnie DeWitt's “Horse Massacre,” in turn, is every bit as jarring as it sounds. But when you see the horses as symbols for all of us living in these last hours before the collapse, you realize the blood on the canvas is ours, not the horses'.
Also intriguing is Jean-Pierre Roy's “Brokenspectre,” a mountain whose sides have collapsed to reveal a building inside. At the base and peak both there are doors, and horses trying to find their way to the top in spite of the collapse. A few have done so. Most have not. How like us humans.
In the same vein, Karl Koett's paintings of sea shells. Not the marine life within, but the shell that remains after the marine creature's life has ended. Likewise Melanie Vote's “Excavation” and “Discovery,” pictures of statues, but broken not whole. John Wellington, in turn, offers two strong paintings of undisguised ruins populated with unsmiling faces. Cheerless, but forceful and clear.
“Salvaged” is on display at the Island Weiss Gallery, 201 E. 69th Street, one of those cozy, ultra-quiet penthouse galleries, until December 22. By appointment only. It's a cutting-edge show, timely as few recent exhibitions have been. But also painful. It's a picture of what's coming, done well, and and it's beautifully truthful but as unsettling as the future itself.