Dustin Yellin's 'Dust in the Brain Attic'; Coke Wisdom O'Neal at Mixed Greens; Sophie Calle's 'Take Care of Yourself'
Art is often a happy accident, and for Brooklyn-based Dustin Yellin, it was a single errant bee. Some years ago, Yellin had just coated one of his Rauschenberg-like collages with synthetic resin when a bee got caught in the sticky surface. He kept it there, applying more resin on top, and soon after, he began experimenting with similar encasements, not only of objects, but of paint and ink. The result was a series of images, often anatomical, that exist in three dimensions with a holographic presence—skulls, skeletons with veins, valved hearts, all suspended inside clear solid blocks, like specimens in ice.
The effort is painstaking: Yellin pours resin into a square mold, paints or draws on the surface, lets it dry, then repeats the process for the following layers, stacking them to build up the image. Lit from all angles, the threads of paint are eerily magnified and distorted by the hardened plastic, which acts as a lens. Yellin plays up the element of mad-scientist horror by adding gothic touches (glowing red eyes, for example), which sometimes border on kitsch. Such effects are attracting mainstream attention, but for my money, his best works are those that combine the 3-D painting with collections (after Joseph Cornell) of found objects. They're less about showcasing the technique and more about pure expression. In one, a foreign coin, a gear, a bone fragment, and a pair of eyeglasses float next to synapse-like threads of color—a wondrous gem of memory and dream.
Coke Wisdom O'Neal: 'The Box (Texas)'
Coke Wisdom O'Neal first took his 22-foot-high wooden box to Manhattan and Queens, where, in a project influenced by Richard Avedon's portraits of ordinary people, he photographed locals standing inside the blank stage-like structure. Now he's done the same thing with residents of a Texas border town, including a rancher, a matador, and a horse. Self-taught, O'Neal, in his previous works, didn't pay much attention to lighting and depth of field, but here he's sharpened his skills with his old-fashioned field camera, producing strikingly crisp edges. Unlike Avedon, who turned his subjects into icons, O'Neal emphasizes his figures' relative anonymity by including the vast box in each shot. They appear, charmingly, like dolls eager for a little attention. Mixed Greens, 531 W 26th, 212-331-8888. Through May 23
Sophie Calle: 'Take Care of Yourself'
That crushing announcement ending an affair of a lifetime may lead to extreme behavior, but few of us will turn it into a project of art and psychology the way Sophie Calle did.
Calle, a Parisian artist known for exposing her private life for public performances, sent her lover's break-up e-mail—a high-minded blow-off that ended with "Take care of yourself"—to more than 100 women, asking them to comment on it with writing or a performance. The fascinating variety of work that Calle received, filling the gallery, is like a festival for the French obsession with dissecting l'amour.
The text-based pieces, enlarged on the walls, are clever in the way of those e-mailed jokes that lampoon sacred subjects with mocked-up voices of authority. A children's author, for example, pens a gruesome fable about a Queen and a haughty young man tempted by the Devil; a chess player analyzes a position in which the black King has prematurely resigned; a criminologist finds Calle's lover "psychologically dangerous." (The gallery presents all these pieces in the original French, but English translations, oddly unadvertised, are available.)
More poignant (and more memorable) are the performances, filmed by Calle. In audition-like moments, actresses interpret Calle's letter through various states of laughter and dismay, and chanteuses sing their laments. In one of the best works, beautifully encapsulating despair, a ballerina glances at the lover's words before ecstatically dancing backward and collapsing. The most chilling scene (coming closest, one might guess, to Calle's initial reaction) is that of a young Olympic sharpshooter. Filmed in close-up, she methodically cocks her rifle and fires three bullets at a distant target (the letter, naturally), which then travels back on its wire, dramatically rushing toward the camera to reveal three clean holes. The sharpshooter gives them a plaintive stare, and the screen fades to black. Take care of yourself, indeed. Paula Cooper Gallery, 534 W 21st, 212-255-1105. Through June 6
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