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Symbolic Space and Repetition Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art July 2004

Helene Aylon,
Helene Aylon, "Earth Ambulance" (2002).

Orchestrated into a maze-like 12,500 sq. ft. renovated warehouse in Peekskill, NY, the inaugural exhibitions of the Hudson Valley Center for Contemporary Art were curated by it founders Drs. Livia and Marc Straus, and the former director Maureen Pskowsky. With the exception of three long-term installations and the resident artist’s work, the pieces are from the Straus collection, suggesting a suburban equivalent to the Fisher Landau Center in Queens.

The strongest rapport resides with Symbolic Space, in which the curators’ utilize Bachelard’s The Poetics of Space as their guiding mantra. His seminal work "speaks to the metaphoric power of how the individual is positioned in space and how artists use space as a language." They see the lines between art and architecture blurring, and this exhibit benchmarks this trend with works referencing both literal and metaphoric architectural relationships, or space portrayed as a symbolic device with strong metaphoric power.

Tour-de-force architectural works are Thomas Hirschhorn’s installation "Laundrette" and Jason Rhoades’s "Sutter’s Mill." Supplanting video in the bellies of the fabricated washer-dryers, Swiss artist Hirschhorn confronts his viewer with clips of global atrocities—firing squads, mutilation, decomposing bodies—interwoven with self-portraits as a glutinous consumer. A five-part Marxist model rims the upper walls surrounding those in this unclean womb, fulfilling our self-absorbed needs. Strategically placed outside of "Laundrette," "Sutter’s Mill" is a skeletal recreation of the California gold rush structure. With an internal river of clothing, a signifier of human sweat and labor, the physical detritus remembers a proletariat workforce from a previous era.

Some semi-installations and sculptures, while not overtly architectural, support the metaphoric spatial ideology, while others seem to bear little relation to the theme. Steel cables bar us from entering Mona Hartoum’s "Home," crackling with sizzling electric currents. It is all the more visceral in the wake of American atrocities abroad. Rachael Whiteread’s "Felt Floor" however, translates as precious kitsch as we are denied the opportunity to circumnavigate its tease à la Carl Andre. Likewise, Robert Gober’s "Sink with Drainboard" feels too removed in its own segmented cubicle with other bastions such as Haim Steimbach’s "Code of Silence" and Richard Artschwager’s "Round Mirror II" that struggle as minimalist works attempting a phenomenological framework. More in sync is Flavin’s iconic "Monument for V. Tatlin." The Russian artist considered his work "as mute and undistinguished as the run of our architecture." Two other three-dimensional wall pieces, a 1982 Stella inspired by racetrack design and a Rebecca Horn, resonate with the sought after symbolic, spatial power.

A path interweaves between painting and photography adhering to an architectural referent and yet suggesting differing spatial realms. Kevin Zucker, Neo Rauch, and Colin Lee are a few whose paintings and digital transfers invent architectural mise-en-scènes of their own. Anselm Keifer’s "Alexandria" is an intermediary, bridging worlds as bookshelves expand to an unclear, fiery state beyond. Reaffirming this visionary zone, Michael Raedecker’s "That’s the way it is" is an acrylic and thread delight, reigning in or letting loose plant and animal life, transforming suburban home/lawn imagery into a Jack-and-the-beanstalk explosion of primordial earth/space into loftier dimensions above. Grander still are Richard Sigmund’s paintings "Bardo’s 1 & 4," stele shaped ovoids, curvatures of asphalt earth melting into midnight-blue skies, ethereal manmade spaces floating into nature’s floor plan. "Bardo" is Tibetan for the space between death and re-birth, or any passing.

As exhibit installer, Sigmund’s careful deliberation creates two jewel arenas. In one small maze opening, "Intimate Immensity" takes form. Peggy Preheim’s "Frozen Charlot" is a miniature, 3/4 egg shaped pencil drawing of a darkly clad, crouching woman outdoors in the foreground atop a reflective, icy surface. Her body’s reflection is a surprise; rather than dark shadow, a light, crest-like image appears beneath her. Devilishly gazing from beneath her wide brimmed hat that carries a white-crested, birdlike shape, her glint declares: something lurks below. Directly across is Gregor Schneider’s "Grab (Grave)," whose upright stele dons a small, egg-shaped cut-out, beautifully echoing Charlot’s shaped domain, and a shiny, fat-encrusted, horizontal grave slab that extends below, personifying her subterranean secret. A shift out of the maze takes us into Helène Aylon’s "Earth Ambulance" and "The Bridge of Knots" just where Jeff Wall’s strategic "Diagonal Composition #3," with its convincing bucket of blood eerily sets the stage (and hones the signifiers) of Aylon’s long-term installation. In 1982, the first Earth Ambulance collected dirt put into pillowcases from twelve S.A.C.’s throughout the country. In 1992, the action was reconfigured with a gathering of blue corn seed from Native Pueblo lands in celebration of the end of the Cold War. In 2002, it became a millennium repository, an interior meditation space with blank pillowcases yet to receive the dreams of this century, for as receptors of our oneiric states, the artist says they "hold us in our most vulnerable states of being, that are the same for everyone everywhere."

Relegated to a small room upstairs, Repetition focuses on art that repeats an image, sound, and/or sculptural object. Despite fine work by early postmodernists and strong female representation, the exhibit physically suffers from the very element—space—that is heralded downstairs. A lasting correlation remains however, between Yayoi Kusama’s "Stamen’s Sorrow" and the work of the similarly fragile, artist-in-residence, Sandra Tombolini, working in a separate room below. Watching her obsessively cover furniture cast-offs with vibrantly colored, plastilina flowers, one is reminded of life’s precarious balance that we all must delicately tread.


Cynthia Cox

"Art is the culmination of a life gone insane."


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2004

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