Peteran's 'Furniture Meets Its Maker'; 'Edge of Vision' at Aperture Foundation; Claire Harvey at Lombard-Freid

It's a pity you can't sit inside Gord Peteran's windowed chamber, a beautiful and beguiling work, titled Ark, that he's crafted from oak and brass. Plug in the black cord that snakes from its front panel, and there's no telling what might happen: time travel, metamorphosis, transcendence. For some years now, Peteran has brought the refined mystery of the Victorian-era mad scientist to the art of furniture-making, assembling odd contraptions or unsettling mutant forms. Two tables, for example—one constructed from driftwood and string, the other from sawed-off wooden stubs—bring Frankenstein to mind; though recognizable as demilunes, they're rough, awkward creatures. Another work, Two, joins a pair of chairs at their legs as Siamese twins, displaying them on a brass stand like a medical curiosity, while A Little Table is a half-formed thing that can't even stand up.

Elsewhere, in Maypole, Peteran has outfitted a wooden table with a central brass rod, from which hang, by rope, two harnesses similar to children's swings. The piece was created for a gallery show of furniture intended for sex, but, typical for Peteran, it wonderfully defies explanation. As Meret Oppenheim, Hans Bellmer, and Kurt Schwitters did, respectively, with the teacup, the doll, and the room, Peteran is upending notions of domestic comfort. His furniture shuns decorum for provocation.

'The Edge of Vision: Abstraction in Contemporary Photography'

Seat of power? Peteran's Electric Chair, 2004
Elaine Brodie
Seat of power? Peteran's Electric Chair, 2004

Details

Gord Peteran: 'Furniture Meets Its Maker'
Museum of Arts and Design
2 Columbus Circle, 212-299-7777
Through August 16

Though conceptualism, minimalism, and abstraction haven't been strangers to photography over the years, representation of the known world continues, ho hum, to dominate the field. But if this exhibit is any indication, the experimental impulse is gaining adherents, and, with any luck, they'll yank the art out of its derivative rut.

The variety of techniques on display here is eye-opening. Charles Lindsay zaps special-formula emulsions with a battery charger (along with other manipulations) to create fantastical black-and-white images of flowing, highly textured shapes that resemble something from Hubble. Michael Flomen gets similar visions—undulating shadowy expanses studded with glowing spots—by producing unusual photograms of nature: At night, he briefly illuminates photographic paper that he's immersed in a stream or thinly covered with snow. Photojournalists Adam Broomberg and Oliver Chanarin give that method a conceptual twist: Embedded with British soldiers in Afghanistan and tired of realism, they exposed sections of light-sensitive paper directly to the air at various waypoints to capture the environment of battle. The resulting blue scroll of dark spikes seems to graph a progression of fear or fatigue.

Ilan Wolff doesn't use light at all, but makes portraits of energy by bringing substances into direct contact with the emulsion for a chemical reaction; in the vibrant Water #10, shimmering lines radiate outward against a bluish background and seem to glorify the central object (a melting ice cube). At perhaps the furthest extreme are Ellen Carey's giant Polaroids of nothing more than reflected light: Dark, striated tongues on white sheets—created on the famous five-foot-high camera in Manhattan's Polaroid studio—they look more like minimalist paintings. But this is the enthralling idea behind all these works: They're not photography, not in the familiar sense—they're pure expression. Aperture Foundation, 547 W 27th, 212-505-5555. Through July 9

Claire Harvey: 'Next to Nothing'

The overhead projector, that relic of the pre-digital age, has a long history with dull presentations, but in Claire Harvey's hands, it becomes a delightful magic lantern. Harvey has painted tiny solitary figures on transparencies, all in black oil, and then projected their enlarged versions on the gallery walls (which include other works of Harvey's on canvas) to create a ghostly mural of isolated urban lives. The installation presents a kind of social realistic take on anonymity—the characters, based on old photographs or stills from film noir, sometimes interact with elements of the room, but generally remain unaware of each other.

Harvey is insistently low-tech: She leaves the projectors and electric cords fully exposed, props up a wall panel with a paint can, and lets the shadows of roaming visitors alter what you see. The work, which elsewhere includes figures on Scotch tape, is like street art for the indoor space. Lombard-Freid Projects, 531 W 26th, 212-967-8040. Through June 27 

 
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