On ViewMicroscope Gallery
Exquisite Fucking Boredom: Polaroids by Emma Bee Bernstein
May 24 – July 2, 2012
On ViewA Slender Gamut by Matthew Whitenack
David Roesing: A Sentence Splayed
June 3 – July 13, 2012
The studio of mixed-media artist Jung ah Kim is located on the second floor of 56 Bogart Street in Bushwick. Just opposite the Morgan stop on the L train, her building is one of the area’s original artists’ studio buildings, now numbering in the hundreds. It could be considered ground zero for the sprawling, three-square-mile district of studios and, more recently, art galleries. Both types of venues were celebrated in this year’s Bushwick Open Studios (B.O.S.), the massive “self-organized, collaborative festival.” The sixth and largest version--so far--of this annual event even included a small art fair, Bushwick Basel, hosted in the studio of painter Jules de Balincourt.
Conversations I had during a two-day tour of the festival touched on the increased presence of galleries in Bushwick and the open studio event itself. In particular, the encroachment of commercial voices into B.O.S. seemed to imply a remove for the event’s audience from primary exposure to the creative process. Galleries and fairs deprive B.O.S. viewers of the opportunity to judge the validity of the art on view for themselves; a visitor to an artist’s studio has the sole responsibility for, and may undertake the risk of, identifying what is engaging, surprising, and new – something I felt comfortable doing in Kim’s studio.
Kim shares her modestly sized studio with two other artists. Born and raised in Korea, the 29-year-old artist has lived in New York since 2008. Her workspace felt open, airy and serious. She, her fellow artists and their friends, were intently engaged in prolonged, focused conversations throughout the room. “I work within limits,” Kim replied when asked about her art, which was intuitively installed in groups according to medium on her area’s walls, desktop, and a cinderblock shelf on the floor. Offering signs of a common genealogy were Kim’s small, monochrome, abstract paintings; clipped and painted on snapshot photographs; and organically shaped newsprint collages inspired by a sustained comparative scrutiny within and between each grouping. Each piece seemed derived from an imperative to play out the effects of all possible permutations of said materials before considering the addition of another variable.
Three collaged paper clouds, composed of tiny interwoven shapes of printed bright color—two stacked on the wall and one on the table—were revealed, upon closer inspection, to be made of grocery store coupons, colored pencil, pen and thread, all from a body of work called “How to Survive.” The artist’s predominantly blue and white paintings on wood panel were compositionally linked via loosely painted, circuit board-like triangles and stripes to adjacent snapshot pieces where imprecise geometric patterns were scratched across the glossy surfaces of casual, close-up portraits. The polygons, carved crudely by hand into the paintings’ surfaces, mimicked the croppings and cutouts of the rectangular format of her photographs. In each media Kim added narrative nuance through the process of subtracting physical matter: The particulars of food discounts were partially obscured by overlapping layers of paper in her collages, forming a visually sustaining textured field; a repeating pattern of small diamond-shaped cutouts pierced the unity of the double portrait of a smiling young couple in a photograph; concentric strokes of paint outlined and buffered the roughly cut hollows in the painting’s wood surface as if healing a wound. Through direct and minimal means Kim created poetic impact.
In two other Bushwick locations, the reward for looking that I experienced in Kim’s studio was echoed. The first was at one of Bushwick’s first commercial galleries—the small, aptly named Microscope Gallery, where a show of grouped Polaroids by Emma Bee Bernstein titled “Exquisite Fucking Boredom” was on view. (Rail publisher Phong Bui curated the exhibition.) Bernstein died in 2008 at the age of 23. Sadly, it is no longer possible to visit her studio; Microscope Gallery, for the occasion of B.O.S., filled this void. In an understated way, Kim’s de-faced/enhanced snapshot works of friends and travels hark back to the personal documentary work of Bernstein. Bernstein’s lush, willfully posed Polaroids, seemingly tossed off, underscore the artist’s heightened awareness of the distance between surface appearance and the substance of a person’s life—of a young woman’s experiences in the first decade of our millennium. The young women collected in Kim’s studio during my visit, with their close, serious comradery, could have been an extension of Bernstein’s social circle.
The second was at a hybrid studio/gallery called A Slender Gamut, founded, or rather, created by artist Matthew Whitenack. By building a closet-sized exhibition space in the bedroom of his Bushwick apartment, Whitenack reminds us that neither commercial nor institutional forces necessarily corner the market on identifying and presenting new artwork; it can happen in small ways, in intimate places, starting with an idea in your head. The work in the gallery featured a series of stereoscopic ink drawings by David Roesing called “The Splayed Sentence.” Based on brief passages from the short story “Dreamtiger” by Jorge Luis Borges, the unframed works perched in a neat row on a wainscot molding. Charged words and phrases such as “a woman’s brow” were encircled by marks originally forming distinct letters, which gradually became disenfranchised blurred ink glyphs that were no longer legible, as if in our peripheral vision. Addressing memory and perception, the works are also published in a book accompanying the exhibition entitled “The Eye’s Mind.” As with Kim’s decision to work so fruitfully within constrained limits, both the formats and artworks exhibited in Microscope Gallery and A Slender Gamut signal the efficient yet playful use of resources required in our over-extended times. Already factored into our viewing is the entirety of art history, including modern and contemporary works, but it is our present post-boom, globally aware circumstances that drive our determination of what is relevant and new.
Microscope Gallery: 4 Charles Place // Brooklyn, NY
A Slender Gamut: 131 Boerum St. #1C // Brooklyn, NY