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Bradley Wester: When In Rome

Bradley Wester, “Untitled (Where All Roads Lead)” (2004) Italian papers, labels, digital print, tour-guide photo.

Bruno Marina Gallery

Bradley Wester exhibits painting, collage, and relief in his current show at Bruno Marina Gallery. Titled When In Rome, it deals with the classical roots of contemporary geometry. Wester’s relentless experimentation in media—inkjet printing in his paintings, postcards in his collages, and the gallery wall itself in one frieze relief—helps elaborate his understanding of the lineage of geometry in visual culture. Yet at some moments in the exhibition, this same experimentation tends to obscure Wester’s attitude toward the relationship he outlines.

In his collages, exhibited in the gallery’s rear room, Wester uses wallpaper, color-coding decals, and postal stickers as signifiers of geometry in our era. He mingles these with images of classical architecture and painting, overlaying and inlaying to heighten the sense of the forms’ integration. The compositions he achieves here are fresh and sometimes wild, as in "Where all Roads Lead." In this small horizontal collage, the curvilinear weave of decals over the barely visible architecture beneath creates a sense of a systemic relationship between geometries. Although his decision to confine the piece beneath clamped Plexiglas somewhat inhibits its impact, one senses tensions between the decal canals and their classical precursors which lead not only into the past but into the future: channels of the sort Wester creates evoke notions of information super highways and congested urbanization. Some of the postcard pieces hung in the hall push this idea forward with elegant simplicity. Here, Wester uses the scale relationship of color-coding decals to postcard imagery to maximum effect, highlighting the geometry of the classical interiors pictured.

For the most part, the paintings in the main gallery reconsider the issues raised by the collages without substantially deepening their import. The cool ink jet technique on primed canvas, which Wester apparently uses to begin his paintings, smoothly imitates the cool of basilica floor plans, classical columns, and tablature. The power of these classical motifs lies in their restraint, mathematical precision, and deep resistance to extraneous form, i.e. ornament. Much fine and diverse painting has arisen in modern and postmodern contexts from contemplating this architecture and its permutations. Mondrian found absolute purity in it; Peter Halley found a prison.

Wester’s attitude toward this same subject matter remains more ambiguous. Among his paintings, perhaps his clearest statement of intent is "Untitled (Basilica)," in which the geometry of an enlarged Italian postal sticker shares the painting’s thin surface with an ink jet printed floor plan for a basilica. The plan is calligraphically rendered and repeated in black. The line sets of the blocky forms derived from the sticker begin to articulate something of the complex content of geometry in our surroundings. Silly as it seems, one begins to meditate on the idea of displacement as embodied in a postal decal’s geometry; this as opposed to confinement in classical restraint. The repetitive interweaving of the black line distracts from this line of thought, however, and moves away from the clarity of classical form. For purposes of communication, such clarity remains desirable regardless of what one might think of classicism. Classical architecture uses direct means to clearly articulate a distilled understanding of reality. When In Rome might benefit from a reduction in breadth of means in favor of clearer articulation of content.


Ben La Rocco


The Brooklyn Rail

JUN 2004

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