On location: Images of upstate can be inferred from Amy Bartell’s “Next”, Emily Fleisher’s vinyl and paper “Cow Pile” and Sarah McCoubrey’s “Another Quality Project: Building Lot” (top of article).
Rene Magritte played a similar game in his 1928 painting “The Treachery of Images.” That’s the one where he paints a pipe, then scrawls below it “This is not a pipe” in French (Ceci n’est pas une pipe). Each of the 55 artists selected for the biennial addressed this philosophical problem in their own way.
Some turned ugly objects of our throwaway culture into highbrow art. Maire Kennedy’s towers of Styrofoam bowls, stacked rim to rim, resemble enormous augers in “Awl.” This impression is reinforced by their placement adjacent to Everson architect I.M. Pei’s corkscrewing stairwell. Another of her works, “Soon,” is a careful arrangement of spooning plastic spoons. Seen from a balcony, individual spoons disappear, subsumed into a pattern of radiating circles like a bleached coral reef.
Erin Lyden Murphy stapled a plain old power cord to the wall in a pattern that evokes the elegant abstract forms of “Flowers from William Morris.” Jen Gandee takes little hats from stuffed clowns and encases them in clay to make “Many Gears” that, alas, fail to mesh.
The title of Thomas Gokey’s work fully explains the reverse alchemy he attempts: “Total Amount of Money Rendered to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in Exchange for a Masters of Fine Arts Degree, Pulped into Four Sheets of Paper.” The optimistic sale price of the piece, $49,893, equals the amount of mutilated currency that went into its generation.
Working in the fourth dimension, time, proved an effective strategy. Audio/video equipment makes it a piece of cake to focus on experience rather than physical presence. Yvonne Buchanan’s “Slippage” resembles a color field painting thrown into motion. It’s spliced together from thin strips of panning footage. No discernable objects here, only vertigo.
Three tall windows frame Sandra Stephens’ “Escape,” a much more soothing video loop. Wispy clouds float in a blue sky, the odd bird wheels in and out of the picture.
An artist referring to himself as Bravo created a work with no physical presence at all. His audio piece, created with the assistance of inmates in a maximum security prison, is only accessible by dialing a number on your cell phone.
Art objects are often placeholders for some “real” thing. Rather than represent another “thing” a few artists alluded to complex patterns of thought. Richard Metzgar’s arcane diagrams combine photographs, looping paths and textual data to record his urban explorations. Jen Pepper linked up a matrix of cheap plastic plaques with fine gold chains. The plaques are engraved with evocative non sequiturs like “BLACKENED HALOS,” “BROKEN ENGLISH” and “IMAGE PULLED FLAT.” They trickle down from the playful title plaque, “PAINTINGS PICTURED HERE.” It’s concrete poetry at its finest.
Jeff Allen combines strategies in his mixed media piece, “Connecting.” The video component is an intense collage: A vivid view of a snail oozing along, men rowing a large boat, the skin getting pulled from a deer like a wet latex glove. Allen built a viewing environment that heightens the weirdness. The video plays on a flat screen hanging high on the wall of a shellacked metal shack. Saplings yanked from the ground, roots and all, hang from its ceiling. Shiny brown paint makes them look like giant neurons sculpted from glazed clay.
If all this makes your head ache, don’t miss Sam Van Aken’s crowd-pleasing “Irish Pub Time Machine.” Like Dr. Who’s Tardis, its interior seems impossibly cozy from the outside. An overdose of contemporary art calls for a drastic cure: hair-of-the-dog.
"Biomorphic Spazscattertacular" by Anne Novado Cappuccilli
The 2008 Everson Biennial runs through Aug. 24. At 7 p.m. on Aug. 21, artists from the exhibit will engage visitors in discussion as part of Third Thursdays; visit www.th3syracuse.com for more information. The Everson Museum of Art, 401 Harrison St., is open Tuesdays to Fridays and Sundays, noon to 5 p.m., and Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, with a suggested donation of $5 per person. Go to everson.org or call 474-6064 for more information.