Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Romantic in shards, modernism slouching toward Bethlehem; Peter Brotzmann: Wood and Water, Corbett V. Dempsey, Troy Richards – The Perfect View, Thomas Robertello

“The day it snowed on the statues and the light
whispered of coming to grips with the problem, of a thaw
when the sun lit the mounts, the sky grew blue as its
burden fell in drops and over my shoulder a new atmosphere
of comprehension, of desire, of yearning…”
-Barbara Guest, “Biography: Two”

Made it to two gallery shows in Chicago this past weekend (as well as the MCA, which will be its own post if my thoughts start about that start to cohere). 

I was looking forward to the Corbett V. Dempsey show before I even set foot in the door, Peter Brotzmann’s record on Okka Disc with Kent Kessler and Hamid Drake was the rosetta stone that made contemporary European free improv make sense to me, in its mix of churning emotion and the tranquility and wisdom of stone, almost ambient textures when played at one volume and a maelstrom of feeling you’re trapped within at another, and that sent me down the rabbit hole I still haven’t gotten out of. 

And who wrote the liner notes for that?  John Corbett, co-owner of the gallery, whose book Extended Play: Modern Music from John Cage to Dr. Funkenstein came out when I was a freshman in High School – I got it a year or two after that, from the Wex bookstore - blew my mind and opened my eyes.  I’m not anywhere near the writer or the thinker Corbett is, as should be painfully obvious to the handful of you I’m so grateful read this, but that (and Greg Tate, and Peter Margasak, and some Guralnick, and some Tosches) is the benchmark I’m always striving for.

At Corbett V. Dempsey, Brotzmann in his Wood and Water show uses watercolors, gouache, and woodcuts to drill through layers of inhibition and conscious thought, bringing myth and Jungian archetypes bubbling up from the vein of history.  In triptychs brush strokes take shape as a hill, then trees in front, and by the end the trees look like Blake's giants being crushed by Heaven - with the giant being crushed motif popping back up, more literally, in a couple of woodcuts. 

He ranges from post-apocalyptic hieroglyphs to abstract expressionist cave painting in the ink and gouache works, but that's oversimplifying.  Sometimes he harkens back to the fauve or earlier romanticism, fitting for the self-proclaimed "last romantic", as in the gorgeous reds and blues of Dark Cloud over Kurst on artfully distressed paper or the black and white Shinjuku paintings that are all sensual wide brushstrokes and shades of grey that only reveal the composition as you step back, like buildings turning into - or being reborn from  - ash. 

The woodcuts reinforce these perceptions but add more figurative, literal work and physical power and momentum, in some ways echoing the Depression-era socialist art but even the nature woodcuts, recalling a rougher-hewn Hokkusai, seem to pulse, getting their energy from the edges where you can see the artist's hand in a very real way.  They eschew precision for a movement rippling under the surface.  Through Mar. 27.

In sharp contrast, we saw Troy Richards' exhibit The Perfect View, which is all precision.  If not untouched by human hands, then as close as seems practical.  The artist created a computer model of a plane crashing into a modernist house and then took fragments of it, flattened out, and printed onto vinyl with a laser printer.  Interesting use of textures, rubble laid on the prints in small strips of vinyl, and same color on color to create depth, as in the first picture of the series of a placid, starless night sky over the trees and the plane in black matte just coming through the background.   In whole, as A. said, "It's smashing pretty things together and making them prettier."

The second picture looks like a pattern of white on black until you realize after going through the whole exhibit it's a point of view shot of the moment a window shatters.   And the pattern of the shattering glass is recalled a little bit in some geometrics that you realize are samplers, used in the background of the interior.  But what bothers me about that p.o.v. shot, is there are no people in any of the pictures, no one on the plane, no one in the house, it's just beautifully crunched shapes.  The best hypothesis for this I heard was from A., "It's a comment on those modern houses where people seem extraneous anyway," which I'd buy.  But this kind of thing just makes me hear in my head the Diamanda Galas song, "You who mix the words of torture, suicide, and death / With scotch and soda at the bar / We're all real decent people, aren't we, / But there's no time left for talk / Please don't chat about despair / Please don't chat about despair." 

I was glad to have seen both of these but I'll take the Brotzmann any day of the week.


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