Standard Deviation at The Shirey

[uds-billboard name=”standard”]If art is said to resist the status quo, then it must have a familiar place from which to depart. In Standard Deviation, a five-person exhibition that recently closed at The Shirey in Bushwick, artists examine everyday tropes and materials. However, within each work, something is awry. Curated by artist Gregg Louis, the exhibition features painting, sculpture, and video by artists Leah Dixon, Sharona Eliassaf, Naoko Ito, Avi Krispin, and Eric Mistretta. Working off of the statistical concept used to calculate the variation from an average point, the exhibition plays with the tension between the expected and the unexpected, encouraging viewers to take a closer look.

Upon entering the gallery, one was confronted with an iridescent sculpture spelling out the word “Dolly”. Created by Naoki Ito, the pine and Plexiglas sculpture casts a pink shimmer onto the gallery floor, beckoning viewers to bask in its glow. Before learning the title of the sculpture, I immediately associated the work with the illustrious Dolly Parton. However, after reading the title of the piece, Copy Two, I understood the work to reference Dolly the cloned sheep. In spelling out “Dolly” in shiny, billboard-like letters, Ito captures the enticing yet troubling nature of cloning. The addition of hinges at the corner of each letter reveals the sculpture’s deceit. The hinges at once hold the corners together, and yet also make the sculpture less stable, as the letters would lose their rigidity upon being removed from the wall.

Leah Dixon explores symbols of power that accompany traditional pattern and decoration. In Throne on Tiptoes II, Dixon creates a humble throne using a common wooden chair. Draped across the back of the chair, a painted goatskin hide features the pared-down outlines of planes and bombs. Beneath and behind the chair, a geometric backdrop is painted with patterns borrowed from prayer rugs, visually separating the throne into its own sacred space. The geometric backdrop also serves to draw attention to the base of the chair, revealing that this makeshift throne is perched on wooden stilts, awaiting an impending fall. In referencing political and religious conflict through decorative patterning, Dixon’s sculpture embodies the tension between the throne as a civic and spiritual seat.

Sharona Eliassaf borrows imagery from her daily encounters—news headlines, magazine clippings, overheard conversations—to construct fictional narratives in her paintings. Throughout her vibrant body of work, Eliassaf’s images conjure notions of the carnivalesque: multicolored lines radiate out from the center of her compositions, setting the stage for a surreal performance. As in dreams, elements of the paintings are in sharp relief, while other forms disintegrate into an acidic mist. In combining imagery from a wide array of sources, Eliassaf creates a world that is at once familiar, yet ominously divorced from our everyday realities.

Employing a wry sense of humor, Eric Mistretta creates fleshy compositions by stretching nylon pantyhose over gessoed panels. In Aunt Debbie and Aunt Donna, rotund figures emerge from the stretched nylon, much like the twisted faces that appear within Willem de Kooning’s paintings of women. In these works, Mistretta playfully elicits feelings of discomfort, like discovering a family member in a state of undress. Mistretta’s cheeky use of everyday materials recently earned him a place in The Virgins Show, the inaugural exhibition at Maurizio Cattelan and Massimiliano Gioni’s Family Business Gallery in Chelsea.

Filmmaker Avi Krispin probes popular culture and social norms in her twelve-minute video There was a Time When Men Died for Honor (2012). As the piece opens, a man stops his car in front of an abandoned warehouse. Upon entering the warehouse, he observes a group of men gathered in the center of a dimly lit room. Far from the violent act that we are programmed to expect, we watch as the group of men jocularly pat one another on the back. Suddenly, our protagonist enters the scene and attempts to fight with one of the men. As the two men cite their grievances, “she was my wife,” “it’s for my children,” “it’s for my country,” their outbursts sync up and they begin to chant in unison. The illusion of violence is broken, and the fight again transforms into a hugging circle. The artist explains, “the notion of the modern man’s catharsis through violence is questioned by taking the fight out of the fight club, unmasking the absurdity of the idea by turning it into a clandestine group therapy.” Using familiar cinematic cues—suspense, dramatic lighting, imminent violence—Krispin effectively neuters the action-movie genre by critiquing it from within.

Just as the works in Standard Deviation reveal contradictions within accepted social conventions, they also encourage a reevaluation of what we expect from a group exhibition. Perhaps the most refreshing aspect of Louis’ exhibition is that, like the individual works on display, the selected group is not forced into a preconceived thematic premise. Though the gallery space in The Shirey is intimate—approximately 165 square feet—the artworks possess a distinct presence that at once holds the exhibition together and allows each work to stand alone.


Standard Deviation was on view at The Shirey in Brooklyn, New York September 28 – October 19, 2012.
Images courtesy of The Shirey. 

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