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Bush League Roebling Hall

David Opdyke,
David Opdyke, "Oil Empire" (2004), molded plastic, painted metal, and stand. Courtesy of Roebling Hall.

Bush League wades the well-swum waters of expressly political art with a group of paintings, sculptures, and videos that levy a critique of current politics and policy in America. The work is acerbic, as art of this sort tends to be, and suffers from the tunnel vision characteristic of its breed. Explicit political messages do not give art meaning. They merely constrain its potential content to a narrow frame of reference.

Bush League sounds a note of deep discontent with the status quo in varying cadences. Rather strident is Michael St. John’s close-up photo of a woman penetrated anally and vaginally surrounded by images of various pop icons and flanked by little American flags. Wayne Gonzales’s tight, monochromatic images of the president and his cabinet as they might be seen on a surveillance monitor are understated to the point of invisibility. In subservience to his depiction of alienation, his flawless craftsmanship is barely noticeable. Ivan Navarro’s "You Sit, You Die" is discordant. If his sculpture of fluorescent tubes, electric cables, and list of people who got the chair in Florida is meant to evoke an electric chair, why does it look like a lawn chair? An appropriately literal question for an extremely literal piece.

Most of the work in the show suffers from a compromise similar to Navarro’s. The problem is, when work relies on communicating specific information, the form in which it is expressed needs to be transparent. The degree to which it isn’t is the degree of the piece’s failure. Why, for example, did Dan Ford choose to depict his burning of the National Library in Baghdad as an oil on canvas in romantic swirling color reminiscent of Turner? Wouldn’t it have been more practical as an inkjet print pulled from a documentary photo? Doesn’t the romanticism of the swirling line and color get in the way? One might say intuition led the artist to do it, but intuition is out of place when a painting’s message is not intuitively gleaned but literally read. Probably in recognition of this, Ford’s coloring and drawing seem somewhat forced. As for Navarro, he could have made his sculpture look exactly like an electric chair. He probably could have found some old defunct chair, dragged it into the gallery, and tacked the list on it.

Painting and sculpture, when pushed through intuition to their limits as media, can take radical form far more evocative as image and more efficient as critique. When artists such as those in Bush League are willing to settle for less powerful statements, the indication is that they themselves have ceased to believe in radical form springing from profound exploration of a medium. Instead they opt for imposed content and, by extension, imposed form.

Not surprisingly, those artists in Bush League who go the farthest in disregard of their respective mediums make the most forceful work. Jane Benson need not bother about modeling in her sculpture, a solid wood door of dada parentage impotently installed against a gallery wall. Its message of unease and frustration is implicit, not illustrated. The form of David Opdyke’s sculpture "Oil Empire" is entirely dictated by its function—to detail the movement and storage of oil in America on a manageable scale. Its medium is a product of, not a compromise with, the constraints of the information conveyed. Deborah Grant’s contribution, a frieze-like collage, adopts the language of pulp fiction and comic books, as opposed to classical draftsmanship, to send its angry message.


Ben LaRocco


The Brooklyn Rail

SEPT 2004

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