Worlds of wishes

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Roberta and our buddy Anne Seidman and I rode up to look at “affect,” a show a little far afield for us. It’s at Ursinus College’s Berman Gallery, in Pottstown, which is why we haven’t gotten there sooner.

Every week since its opening, we’ve been talking about going, because of the artists included. Here’s the list: Ellen Berkenblit, Joy Feasley, Nancy Lewis, Robin Miller, Ellen Phelan, our buddy Anne, and Amy Sillman.

(That’s two Ellens, one man and six women.)

The work was pretty interesting–post-modern without the chilliness (that’s the explanation for the name). I wouldn’t say it heaved with emotion, just percolated with subdued anxieties, perhaps.

In a way, I can group Berkenblit, Feasley, Lewis, and Sillman for a childlike take on a world of wishes.

Berkenblit’s drawings (shown top, “Giraffe With Red Lantern”) almost feel like illustrations to some loopy child’s storybook, with a woman listening to a mouse on her lap (left) or sprinkling dust on a butterfly. The drawings, clearly narrative, are thoroughly unclear in meaning, but their lyrical shapes, earnestness and what feels like concern come straight from a childlike imagination.

But this is no young kid making these cartoons and drawings (right, “Yellow Arrow”). Her work predates the craze for that kind of work on paper that has become the rage.

There’s also a little girl fashion sense in the poses here, and sure enough, if you go to drboudoir.com you can see her fashion designs, a fact gleaned from show curator Andrea Cooper, who used to be at the ICA.

The affect carries me over to Joy Feasley’s naked campfire girls who bravely challenge and endure the world as they find it, creating some good, clean living for themselves. The women’s slightly awkward nakedness, juxtaposed with settings far from the bedroom, seems to come from a girl’s dream of her magic powers.

In “Tree Levitation,” a girl in pigtails, underpants and flipflops levitates next to a Christmas tree. The three women in “Future Farmers of America” (shown above) have an intimate conversation over a log, oblivious to their own incomplete nakedness, interrupted by wellies and sandals. (“Love Hippie” shown)

Amy Sillman’s “Untitled,” a piece of sheetrock leaning against the wall covered with 50 gouache-on-paper drawings (shown, full and detail below), comes straight out of the kids-will-paint-what-they-will-paint school, the freedom of self-expression feeling like its main point. It’s not unlike Sillman’s paintings (she was in the Whitney this year) in which she throws up multiple styles in the same painting without restraint.

It’s a freedom that allows for inconsistency of subject and imagery. While not all the images are great, some of them are pretty interesting. I am reminded of the snake eating the elephant in the “Little Prince,” here, the adults mistaking it for a hat. The imagery teeters on the verge of being something recognizable.

But it was the child’s bulletin board in a world without art rules that gave this work traction.

Nancy Lewis’s “too much,” (shown) a wall drawing installation in (and over the edge of)one of the two niches in the gallery, is romantic without the violins, cooled by the abstracted imagery and the subdued pencil and paint colors.

A landscape that’s a rollercoaster that suggests minarets with Crusader flags and mountains seems to bring us back into a girl’s dream world of yearning tempered by speed. The Chinese landscape is pulled from a vertiginous vertical to a speeding and looping horizontal.

The second niche was filled by Anne Seidman’s site-specific “Line Drawing” installation (right), that seemed to take its inspiration from the window inside the niche’s side wall. Seidman defines a pink pool of architecturally defined light or shadow pretend-cast by the window.

And she refers to the perspective suggested by the shape of the niche in her drawing, a series of vertical colored-pencil lines that reminded me of the shadows cast by venetian blinds. There’s a flicker of light play suggested in the markings, and the color juxtapositions bring to mind Seurat’s pointilism, with lines instead of points–all of which brings to my mind a peaceful, naturally lit space.

Ellen Phelan’s still lifes (left, “Brown Vase With Roses”) and landscapes seemed to belong to a different show, maybe because they seemed so close to traditional still lifes and landscapes. This is an ideal world, but the pieces seemed more about perception than feeling, and lovely though they were to look at, I was unable to find what the others in the show offered, those touchstones where dreamy fantasy and tentative emotions meet.

The paintings and sculptures of Robin Miller, the one guy in the group, however, seemed to have his own take on the dream world of low anxiety–sort of from a man’s point of view–architecture.

His four tiny “Babel Towers” (above right) each made from the letters and punctuation marks cut up and stacked, and each from a different English translations of the Tower of Babel story, bespoke the disintegration of language. I started thinking about Political Correctness, and how it has undermined language. Anyway, it’s a boy’s dream world that’s less than pleasing.

Of Miller’s tiny paintings, quite abstract, my favorite was “Angels over Berlin” (above left) painted on a map of Berlin, with “Utopia Parkway” (shown right) a second. Again, the dreams are dark. The angels are over Berlin, not Paris. And the glasses don’t seem to help in seeing through the fog on Utopia Parkway.

I didn’t find that childlike pleasure the women offered, only a world of menace and disintegration.

The show us up only until June 6, so you have a week left to get there.

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