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Strange Architecture

The Good, The Bad & the Not-So-Good

Architecture. If you went to art school it was the major your mother wished you had chosen. If you went the fine art route instead, it’s always the medium from which you pillage. For the intellectually inclined, architecture offers meaty texts with utopian aspirations. Others see the architectural practice as a natural extension of their compulsive building habits. Strange Architecture, a group-show of architecture-inspired work at the Catherine Clark Gallery is good, not-so-bad and, in only one instance, ugly.

Blue Ribbons

Mark Bennett’s floor plans of classic television show homes and Julia Page’s video installation "Best Laid Plans" are well-worth a trip to the 49 Geary art bazaar. Bennett’s blue prints, from the cramped 68th Street apartment of Lucy and Ricky Ricardo to the sprawling Clampett ("The Beverly Hillbillies") estate, were done during hours and hours in front of the television. No detail of the residences goes unnoticed as Bennett notes the location of the "Addams Family" quicksand pit or Bruce Wayne’s bust of William Shakespeare. The artist’s elaborate drawings mirror the creative energy invested in even the most knee-jerk situational comedy.

A motel room, a suburban lawn, a basement, storage garage, and a van transform into survival compounds in Julia Page’s 5 monitor video installation "Best Laid Plans". Drawing over still photographs Page slowly adds sandbags, canned goods, gas masks, and other supplies for her invisible inhabitants to weather Y2K, nuclear fallout, or unwanted government interference. Rifles and a map of the United States taped to the side of the van cast a sinister pall over the works and question whether these compounds were built as shelters for innocent victims or foxholes for enemy combatants. Thoughtprovoking and darkly comedic they feel light despite their heavy subject matter.

The Underwhelmers

However, the bulk of the work in Strange Architecture is lukewarm. Jimbo Blachly’s piece looks like he is still getting the hang of the hardware and craft store materials he uses to construct his small model-like sculptures. Dave Hamill’s biotech-inspired abstract drawings are not quite complex enough to wow an audience. "Prairie Letdown" by Sheri Simons is anything but. The artist’s simplification of buildings to their most basic forms is an intriguing democratization of structures as fantastic as the Leaning Tower of Pisa and as bland as a Chico Nut Co. factory. It teeters on greatness. Another non-offending piece is Ben Peterson’s diptych "Elysian Fields" with its beautiful rendering of sod and spilt soil.

Bad meaning bad, not bad meaning good

Phoebe Washburn made many New York critics “one-to-watch” list in late 2004 with room-filling installations at P.S. 1 Contemporary Art Center and LFL Gallery. Her built-up environments of recycled materials resemble a dense, sprawling cityscape and would have been a fun, fantastic addition to this show. Unfortunately her piece "Megadesk" a plywood board decorated with Post-It Notes and Staples boxes and propped up by two folding chairs, looks less like art and more like junk. Totally without craft, this piece looks hastily and carelessly put together. From the looks of it Washburn is being completely honest in her artist statement when she lists laziness as one of the principles of her building process.

Fish out of water

Often times the curator of a group show includes a piece or pieces whose relationship to the theme of the show is so tenuous one wonders why she bothered with a theme at all. "Bad Daughters Make Bad Friends" doesn’t destabilize this show but it is a far stretch to call this piece, an ink and gouache drawing on paper of two girls under a pair of sheets, architecture-inspired, especially in comparison to the other artists’ works that quote the discipline so directly. Josephine Taylor says of her drawing, “There is architecture as structure…” Bed sheets are not structure but cladding, like a modern skyscraper’s non-load-bearing skin of glass. Taylor is a very strong artist and I suspect her piece was included to kick the quality of the show up a notch and to capitalize on the publicity she’s received as a 2004 SECA Art Award Winner.

Strange Architecture
March 4 - April 16th
Catherine Clark Gallery
Tuesday - Friday 10:30AM- 5:30PM
Saturday 11AM - 5:30PM