Are we nuts or what? We drove all the way to Long Branch, N.J. to see the O show.

Long Branch is just north of Asbury Park, and most importantly near what Roberta kept calling the Big O–the Atlantic Ocean.

But the real draw was the show, curated by MatCH-Art wizards Matthew Fisher & Christine Vassallo for two real-world venues (they have an on-line gallery, too). We caught the tail end of the first venue, the Shore Institute of the Contemporary Arts (SICA), even more of an outpost for contemporary art than we imagine The Knoxville Gallery of Art.

But just because you missed it doesn’t mean you can’t catch it again in March (more about this at end of post).

The “O” show, it turns out is named not the letter o, or the number zero, or so much a symbol as a shape, round, circular, spherical, without corners. We’d been calling it the Oh show (as in the letter o). Ooooh nooooo.

Ooooh, what we saw was certainly not a big ol’ zeroooo, although the show was full of round things. They were pretty goooooood. The artists are a mix of New York and Philly folks, some of whom were completely new to me, some not new but well loved. Many of the pieces seem to have been made specifically for the show. But what tickled me oooooverall was the range of artmaking strategies the show covered.

We had hanging multiple crystal balls holding little red plastic three-eyed (or perhaps three-buttoned) aliens inside, from Savako, looking lighter than air but heavy enough to stretch the monofiliment from which they were suspended. Maybe it was the season, but I thought how great they’d look on a plastic Christmas tree, little red alien Santas in no-snow globes. The slick production made me think they were good candidates for CerealArt (image, o show installation shot, with Savako’s “Mini Mini Mini Portico,” floating in front, polyester, fiberglas and urethane paint).

On the other extreme, there were recycled materials, like Derick Melander’s installation, “Grasp 2,” an enormous round tower with windows made of stacked and folded used clothes…

…and also like Monique Luchetti’s anthropomorphic recycled rag rug, “Weakened by Battle Wounds.” This is the second used clothes piece I’ve seen this month, the other being the huge bales of clothes by Shinique Amie Smith at the Studio Museum in Harlem’s Frequency show (post here).

At the other end of the materials spectrum, the exhibit included two of Philadelphia young drawing masters extraordinaire, Rob Matthews and Randall Sellers. The two Matthews pieces are part of his new series of round portraits of people–several of which sold out last month at Gallery Joe’s booth at the Aqua Art Fair in Miami. Here’s a post on Rob’s blog about his series (portrait of Matthews’ Colonel JD from “The World Made Flesh Made Graphite” series).

Gallery Joe artist Sharon Horvath also had a terrific piece, “Not Yet,” that evoked stadia and roller-coasters and erector sets. I suddenly wondered if she was thinking about the failing Phillies or some other lagging team, who are not yet ready for the Series.

Other local faves included in the show were a Mark Shetabi peephole garage, a small Jim Houser on wood, and a Nami Yamamoto installation (another piece from her “Primordial Soup” series; there’s one up at Vox right now — see post, and there was one at the airport). Familiar work or new work, they still make my eyes go o-o, o-o, o-o. The James Rosenthal lavender cast-resin medallion, hung above the door, announcing Bible Belt, looked great in this setting. Its possibilities as a cowboy’s belt buckle suddenly took on new overtones thanks to “Brokeback Mountain.” Also local with work I recognized was Laura Ledbetter, whose tiny store-bought people against painted backdrops I remember from Spector Gallery (image, Rosenthal’s “Bible Belt”).

I have to mention three other pieces in the show:

“Sold” by Jordan Tinker wins the post-modern prize, a little white-coated teddybear-buddha sitting on the floor, contemplating a small red canvas that’s a painting of an artworld sold dot. The execution is elegant, and the concept is nailed (image, “Sold,” acrylic on found object, acrylic on canvas).

Artist stuffed teddy
longing for red satori
a perfect round dot.

The cartoony pair of oval canvases, “Friends of Bob,” by John Phillips, managed to be googly eyes at the same time that they were faces in exaggerated motion. The colors here were straight out of the Leave it to Beaver kitchen, and the simple means of achieving eyes, nose and mouth with o’s and ovals captured moderne along with the colors. What’s even more amazing to me is this work uses the most conventional of materials–wax and pigment on board. (How many artists named John Phillips are there? I assume this one is from Chicago since he has a Chicago gallery). Hey, someone help me out and tell me who Friends of Bob refers to (image, “Friends of Bob”).
And lastly, I have to say something nice about Joel Edwards’ “Mary’s Baby,” a small, creepy oil on wood painting of a slightly off-looking couple with Mona Lisa smiles holding a very very red baby in front of a vacant green-and-gold aura (image, “Mary’s Baby”).

Others in the show include Lisa Beck, Louis Cameron, Moriah Carlson, Orly Cogan, Mark Dagley, Rob Grunder, Francis Holstrom, Jasper Johns (a print, but a funny one!), Chris Kasper, Laura Ledbetter, Jim Lee, Noah Lyon, Andrew Masullo, Tom Moody, Matthew Northridge, John Phillips, Savako, John Torreano, Alice Wu, and B. Wurtz, whose pie pan paintings, which look a lot like colorful African phone-wire baskets, we had seen a long time ago at Feature Gallery in New York (see post).

I found something of interest in nearly every piece in this show, and there were a lot of them. [info added 01/15/06: To see more images of what’s there, you can take a look here on Roberta’s Flickr site.] The exhibit will travel to the Berrie Center at Ramapo College in Mahwah, NJ, opening Mar. 29.