Although it does have certain quirks—like a gigantic tongue—and perks—like a convenient location—the Visual and Environmental Studies “New Faculty Show” is no spectacular spectacle. Featuring the enigmatic works of five new faculty members spread over the wide ground-level exhibition space in the Carpenter Center, the show is a bit disjointed and a bit bland—but its very non-provocative nature makes it refreshing.
The most prominent spot in the gallery is occupied by Self-Portrait (1998), done by Susan Hauptman (VES 11abr, “Figure Drawing”). In her large charcoal and pastel drawing, Hauptman, nearly bald, with a blank and yet paradoxically penetrating stare, holds a cake out in front of her in her left hand. Above the cake an upside-down face (also ostensibly Hauptman’s) hangs in profile, creating a somewhat schizophrenic effect for the viewer, simultaneously startling and intriguing. The scalloped, fancy plate and the elaborately detailed icing on the cake, rimmed with pink and edged with gold leaf, seem almost garish when compared to the gray charcoal blurriness of Hauptman’s dress and the gritty realistic nature of the two faces.
Piotr Dumala, a film animator (VES 156br, “Intermediate Animation Studio” and 156cr, “Animation Workshop”), has a distinct drawing style that consists of careful, exquisite crosshatching. On the far wall of the space is a collection of his works, which come in all sizes, each carefully framed. Some are done in charcoal, pen and ink or pencil (only a few in color), while others look like etchings.
Dumala’s themes and figures border on the grotesque—a dripping tongue hanging out of a window, a girl with beetles for eyes, a line of shadowy people walking under a solitary rain cloud, clocks embedded in the graves in a cemetery—and the Kafkaesque: Indeed, one of Dumala’s fake film “advertisements” proclaims “Miniature Film Studio Presents a Piotr Dumala Film: Franz Kafka.” All of the figures in Dumala’s drawings display a unique, fascinating dynamism and animation, like actors captured in motion within film stills.
In sharp contrast to Dumala’s meticulous lines are the collages by Jackie Brookner, environmental artist and writer (VES 130abr, “The Language of Sculpture”). Brookner is undeniably the most abstract artist of the five; the content of her art seems almost indecipherable except for what appears to be a droopy, lethargic tongue on the floor in the middle of the gallery. A sculpture whose subject is clearly suggested by the witty title, “AHHH,” the red velvet tongue spills forth from an arched, wooden “mouth” propped on the ground in a powerful, distorted juxtaposition of the inorganic and the organic.
One of Brookner’s untitled collages (1998) and her “Speaking Moss II” (2000, cardboard engraving with monotype) are both full of strange perspectives and vaguely threatening jaws with toothy mouths. The other “Untitled” (1998, soil on paper) is sluggish, almost bogged down with the weight of dirt that has been splattered on the paper over broad charcoal lines. Brookner’s work, while intense and visceral, is challenging to connect with: her collages are like hieroglyphics.
Another ostensibly disconcerting painting that becomes more and more pleasing to the eye if one spends time with it is “Black, White, Grey Cityscape I” (1994) by Martha Diamond (VES 4abr, “The Art of Color”). Filled with large—even careless—brush strokes, the first of Diamond’s two paintings exudes a dark, smoggy, compact atmosphere, evoking the scene of hazy, indistinct skyscrapers. “Untitled (City)” (2001), on the other hand, blazes with brilliant hues: oranges, yellows bleeding onto a bright blue sky, with smoke rising out of a skyscraper. Diamond’s untitled painting seemed eerily and painfully reminiscent of Sept. 11—or perhaps that is simply too much conjecture regarding Diamond’s intentions.
One of the most frustrating aspects of the show is the location of “Looking for Langston” (1989), a 45 minute film directed by Isaac Julien (VES 151ar, “The Post-Cinematic in Video Art”, African-American Studies 187y, “Black Cinema as Genre—From Blaxploitation to Quentin Tarantino”). It is almost impossible to truly appreciate the beauty of Julien’s film while standing in the Carpenter Center: the lighting is not ideal, the screen is tiny and embedded in an enormous white wall, and the ambient noise and perpetual echoes in the gallery force the hapless viewer to glue his ear to the screen just to hear the actors’ voices. “Looking for Langston” is a poetic, haunting documentary, filmed in black and white, that examines the life of Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes from a racial, political and sexual point of view. Julien, an internationally acclaimed filmmaker, achieves a remarkable interplay of light and shadow in his documentary, as well as a singular languid intimacy and sensuality.
“Looking for Langston,” Hauptman’s “Self-Portrait,” and Piotr Dumala’s drawings are the jewels of a show lacking a synthesis of its many disparate components.
VES new faculty show
Through February 24, 2002
CarpenterCenter / VES