Tag Archives: Elisa D’Arrigo

Catalogue essay accompanying “Bête Noire”, a group exhibition at Five Myles

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Nancy Grimes, Custody (2017), oil on linen, 16 x 32″; courtesy the artist

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When asked to participate in an exhibition centered on the theme of “bête noire”, not a few of the invited artists scratched their heads and furrowed their brows. At least, that seemed to be the gist of their responses.

A French literary trope connoting a person or object that is intensely disagreeable and to be strenuously avoided? What right-minded person would want to be lumped under that rubric? The emphasis of the phrase, however, is as much on degree as substance: intensity and strenuousness figure prominently. There are plenty of things that are irksome, but few of them call to us with something like passion. That damned thing won’t let me go and I insist on holding onto it. That’s the rub of bête noire and why it persists as a vital bit of phrase-making. This vexing quality pervades the work of the artists featured in “Bête Noire”; animates it, too.

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Natasha Hesketh, Portrait of What Is Not Being Said (2016), acrylic on paper, 24 x 18″; courtesy the artist

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How these paintings, photographs and sculptures embody the notion of “bête noire” is as idiosyncratic as the visions informing them. Contradictions are abundant. The digitally manipulated dreamscapes of Laura Dodson mull the intransigence of memory and, along with it, the disappointments of nostalgia. The piecemeal and seemingly dehumanizing nature of contemporary relationships are deftly negotiated in the works-on-paper of Natasha Hesketh. Thomas Nozkowski’s off-kilter abstractions embody sharply felt if distinctly occluded encapsulations of lived experience. David Hornung’s ramshackle iconography–at once, homespun and hieratic–serves as a conduit for a dry and whimsical poetry. Matthew Blackwell and his revolving band of cartoonish grotesques are less given to reverie than a frantic and sometimes enraged form of slapstick.

Comedy filters through the work of more than a few of these artists. A mordant wit can be divined in the vases of Elisa D’Arrigo–gnarled vessels that admit to a balletically contrived pathos. Nancy Cohen’s hobbled amalgamations of biomorphic form and utilitarian purpose are charged with tender irony. Industrial means endow Fara’h Salehi’s sculptures of insect life with a streamlined efficiency that doesn’t waylay biological specificity. Specificity is also Loren Munk’s domain, albeit transferred to the art world, in which the ebb-and-flow of history is inventoried with unyielding diligence and chromatic punch.

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Nancy Cohen, Two-Step (2015), glass, metal, rubber, wire and handmade paper, 22 x 22 x 10″; courtesy the artist

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Other images are moody and mysterious, indicative of nothing so much as the limits of understanding. Stephanie Hightower’s paintings create an enigmatic patience game from diagrammatical overlays of topographical shapes, silhouettes, and fleeting allusions to history. Lee Tribe’s totemic effigies, whether rendered in steel or charcoal, evince a temperament alternately driven by the heroic and the haunting. The myriad and often unsettling complications of family are rendered with luminous clarity in the tableaux of Nancy Grimes.

A laundry list of artists only goes so far in elaborating the overriding theme of a given exhibition. The true test comes with how the works themselves engender and underline surprising commonalities, unbridgeable peculiarities, and nagging attractions. The juxtapositions set out in “Bête Noire” are multivalent, not a little irksome, stubbornly put forth, and undeniable in their integrity. The puzzlement is yours for the taking.

© 2017 Mario Naves

 

 

 

“Bête Noire” curated by Mario Naves @ Five Myles

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Invitation artwork: David Hornung, A View of Monuments (2017), matte acrylic and oil, 40 x 40: courtesy the artist

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I’m pleased to announce “Bête Noire”, a group exhibition I’ve curated for Five Myles, an exhibition and performance space located in Crown Heights, Brooklyn.

“There are plenty of things that are irksome,” I write in the essay accompanying the exhibition, “but few of them call to us with something like passion. That damned thing won’t let me go and I insist on holding onto it. That’s the rub of bête noire and why it persists as a vital bit of phrase-making. This vexing quality pervades the work of the artists featured in “Bête Noire”; animates it, too.”

You can read the entire essay in the online catalogue accompanying the show.

The reception will take place on Saturday, November 11th, between 5:00-8:00 p.m.

The exhibition will run until December 17th. For information please check the Five Myles website.

Elisa D’Arrigo at Elizabeth Harris Gallery

Elisa D’Arrigo, Yellow Sprawl (2012), glazed ceramics, 9-1/2″ x 10’1/2″ x 8″; courtesy Elizabeth Harris Gallery

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The sculptor Elisa D’Arrigo has been a friend for over twenty years, a fellow roster-mate at Elizabeth Harris Gallery for almost as long. I can’t pretend to be altogether objective about the work. But this much I do know: D’Arrigo’s art has never flagged in rigor, drive and forward propulsion, and her current exhibition is a stunner.

Known for craggy accumulations of cloth, thread, paper and acrylic paint, D’Arrigo has switched to ceramics or, rather, returned to them after a hiatus of some thirty years. A mordant strain of biomorphism continues to inform the art, but it’s now leavened by a heartening strain of humor. Obsession has been waylaid by goofiness, painstaking methodology by quick-witted improvisations. And don’t talk to D’Arrigo about finicky distinctions between art and craft. She’s “always been energized by the conflation and dissolving of categories . . . I seek the and, not the or.”

Comparisons to Ken Price will be made, I suppose, but D’Arrigo is better than that. She knows the point of art is animism, not taxidermy. As for the flowers ensconced, here and there, within the artworks? They look great.

© 2012 Mario Naves

“Art/Sewn: Tradition, Innovation, Expression” at Five Myles

Cyrilla Mozenter, Castle (2006), pencil on industrial felt hand-sewn with silk thread, 12″ x 17″ x 12″; courtesy Five Myles Gallery

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In their 1978 essay “Femmage,” the artists Miriam Schapiro and Melissa Meyer posited collage as a medium inherently suited to women, linking it to scrap booking, quilt-making and other creative outlets typically pegged as “craft” or “woman’s work.”

In the brochure accompanying Art/Sewn: Tradition, Innovation, Expression, an exhibition at Five Myles, curator Ward Mintz iterates similar points about Feminism, “women’s pastimes” and art historical hierarchies, even managing to slam, albeit obliquely, that perpetual arch-villain Clement Greenberg for daring to distinguish between craft and art. Mintz is worried the viewer won’t see the aesthetics for the stitching.

Forgetting for a moment that it’s a critic’s job to make distinctions, it’s worth pondering if categorization does matter, particularly in a culture where “anything goes” is a rule of thumb. Mintz states that the eight artists featured in Art/Sewn—Emily Barletta, Denise Burge, Elisa D’Arrigo, Linnea Glatt, Janet Henry, Cyrilla Mozenter, Jessica Rankin and Anna Von Mertens—“inevitably [raise] the question, ‘But is it art?’”

Given the quality of the pieces on view, it’s clear that each artist is cognizant of the associations and preconceptions engendered by working with needle and thread. How could they not be, particularly when D’Arrigo cites her grandmother’s embroideries as a touchstone and Mozenter confesses to having once felt “sort of snooty” about craft?

Categorical distinctions do matter, if only because every creative endeavor has its own peculiar imperatives; without a thorough grounding in them, an artist is nothing more than a dabbler. D’Arrigo’s haunting effigies, Mozenter’s stoic deflations of Minimalist precedent and Burge’s goofy meditations on the environment aren’t hampered by this reality; they’re powered by it. And so it goes with the rest of the artists.  But is it art? Methinks the curator doth protest too much.

The more pertinent issue raised by Art/Sewn is “When isn’t it art?” This seems an altogether more fruitful, if potentially uncomfortable, question that Mintz shimmies around. Happily, the artists simultaneously embrace and trample over it.

© 2011 Mario Naves

Originally appeared in the April 5, 2011 edition of City Arts.