By Vanessa Garcia
One of the biggest clichés about artists is that they live “outside the box.” Interestingly, Back to Square One, an exhibition at Ward-Nasse Gallery in SoHo (178 Prince Street), curated by Tchera Niyego and organized by Basak Malone LLC, asks artists to step back inside the box. Specifically, the square. The square of the canvas, the photograph, and the bound sculpture.
This last category — bound sculpture — is particular to one of the show’s artists, Werner Bargsten, whose clay, polyurethane, and copper sculptures attempt to contain matter as well as what matters. What we see in his pieces are a kind of three dimensional painting through sculpture, a world hung upon a flat surface, attempting to break that surface. But this is not an open window into the world, rather a shuttered one — one draped in black and gray. As if what is within is closed and secreted from view, like a widower’s estate holding covered furniture, holding lives, stories, love, ages, and mourning.
One of Bargsten’s Untitled pieces is black and bound in copper – a plot of soil divided in four. A simple piece which draws us into a world of associations – feudalism, slavery, the toil of land and subsistence; factory farming. Armor and amour — open heart surgery. This piece speaks worlds because it is so bound. So forced to live inside the “square.” Others of his pieces attempt to break free of their wrapping, morphing into shapes outside the square — scalene rectangles, and shapes, where the square seemingly swallows its copper bindings. When asked to explain his work, Bargsten prefers to allow the work to do the talking — which it does — but he also says that if he had to say something, he might say it is about “time slipping through my fingers.”
Which, in essence, is also what Debbie Miracalo’s photography is about as well. In an almost oppositional manner. These are not black and white pieces, but color pieces, at full speed. Moving metros capturing passing landscapes — not plots of soil, but urban and semi-suburban landscapes — an attempt to capture through photography what eludes confinement. While Bargsten’s pieces exemplify a world under covers, begging to be dis-covered — Miracalo’s are the world in full site, proving that it is incapable of being caught in a square. Juxtapositions like this are what make the show successful.
Edward Eichel catches camels in ink; Israel in his fine, wispy lines, crowded as any promise. In a collection of prints called Israel Sketchbook — images in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York – we, again, see a world in transit, a view “En Route to Israel-Istanbul” — a passing thought, a whisper that will not concretize, not even on the permanence of paper. Paper, which is itself, in theory, such a sturdy substance, made of bark and process, but thin and marked by light in practice.
As we walk through the show mystics rise up out of oil like upside down carnations in the work of Halis Karakurt; Billy Bob Beamer marks the light, air, and atmosphere that meanders through trees with dust, powder pigment and graphite; and architecture spins its delicate spidery web in the models of Eric Swart, betraying the delicacy of our monuments. We see a kind of digital language informing a new visual vocabulary through Beat Kuert and Susan Carnahan’s pieces, juxtaposed against the more visceral texture of Melih Ozuysal’s acrylic on canvas and Pedro Morales’ paintings. The Black Square and White on White of Malevich echoes in the pieces of Barbara Palka Winek, while the more ecstatic Western European etchings of the 17th and 18th century resonate in Francisco Bustamante Gubbins’ work — an ecstasy that withers beautifully in the hands of William Rodwell, and then threatens to disappear altogether in the ephemeral work of Helga Kreuzritter, only to re-solidify in the “holy femininity” of Biljana Cincarevic.
As with all group shows, you move from piece to piece, making connections and fighting others — you are pushed to see the world through different points of view. But the particular success of this show is its ability to string together these varying viewpoints on the invisible line of space and time. The invitation to the show asks us to question the possibility of breaking the “loop of [our] habitual patterns” and it does this by pushing the artist and viewer into the pattern of the “square” — but only so that, in viewing, the viewer might break free from that pattern. See the soil and toil behind the bound polyurethane; the lives that slip by as we move.