Rhyme, Not Reason at Janet Kurnatowski Gallery

Eight ovals,Marilyn Lerner

Marilyn Lerner, Eight Ovals (2009), oil on canvas, 22″ x 30″; courtesy the artist and Janet Kurnatowski Gallery

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Leave it to a poet to curate an exhibition that abjures literalism as nimbly as it embraces metaphor and meaning. Leave it to a poet who doubles as an art critic to write a press release that provides a rationale for his choices without foisting an agenda on them.

Staking a claim for aesthetic experience that isn’t “fixed and easily translatable,” for art that isn’t “pickled, preserved, canned, frozen, spoiled, rotten or stale,” John Yau has organized Rhyme, Not Reason, an exhibition of five painters whose collective eccentricity argues that the most compelling or, at least, genuine art thrives outside of mass media—as if, the poet and critic notes, “we all live in… virtual reality.”

choices, or the graphic nature of the best pictures, the featured artists—Marilyn Lerner, Laura Newman, David Rhodes, Sherman Sam and Karla Wozniak—create art that evolves from both its own internal (dare one say, philosophical?) logic and the history of a stridently un-mass media: painting.Not that pop culture doesn’t filter into the work—given its ubiquity, how could it not? But

Certainly, one of Yau’s thematic “rhymes” is the individuality of touch, the more unkempt the better (though he’s not averse to meticulously worked surfaces): Lerner’s iconographic abstractions make a virtue of clean and meticulous craft. But informality reigns, from scruffy (Sam) to washy (Rhodes), from faux clunky (Wozniak) to the alarmingly blasé (Newman).

Wozniak’s comic panoramas of roadside America are the lone foray into representational imagery, but their structure—folk art Cubist, kind of—is in sync with the stripped-down vocabularies of the other painters on display. Besides, the cumulative “affinities are very subtle,” like “a slant rhyme in a poem.” It’s a measure of this exhibition’s success and charm that we aren’t left in doubt about its organizing conceit, even if it eludes explication. That is, after all, the point.

© 2010 Mario Naves

Originally published in the September 28, 2010 edition of City Arts.

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