Weekly Update – Facts and Fantasies at Moore

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This week’s Weekly has my review of Facts Fantasies and Fictions at the Galleries at Moore. Below is the copy with some pictures. More photos at flickr.

Paint Misbehaving
Moore’s narrative art show is slippery and subversive.

Sarah McEneaney
Sarah McEneaney, looking regal, in a new work at Moore College’s Facts, Fantasies and Fictions.

Narrative art takes a well deserved bow in “Facts, Fantasies and Fictions” at the Galleries at Moore. The paintings by Sarah McEneaney and Christian Curiel, and video art by Matthew Suib, are three stops on a visual merry-go-round where human life is presented against lush landscapes or forlorn atmospheric wastelands.

As with all works focused on people, the big point is that life is precious and regardless of how far we’ve come technologically, we need our stories of people, pets, far-off lands and heroes to engage our minds in headier stuff than today’s grocery list or tomorrow’s bills.

McEneaney's Independence Day, detail, showing the artist and her dog, Trixie, walking over to a dog that was tied up in the rain. This painting uses the Indian miniature method of story-telling with multiple scenes taking place over time in one work.
McEneaney’s Independence Day, detail, showing the artist and her dog, Trixie, walking over to a dog that was tied up in the rain. This painting uses the Indian miniature method of story-telling with multiple scenes taking place over time in one work.

Sarah McEneaney’s bright-hued autobiographical paintings in egg tempera on wood, or gouache on paper, keep getting better. Seeing a large group of them together is a reminder of this artist’s special talents as a narrator of whimsy, delicacy and gravitas. McEneaney’s deadpan depictions are a humble, homespun approach. But her visual diary, with its great attention to detail, distills the small moments into Balzac-like vignettes where a pooch is never just a pooch.

Sarah McEneaney, Independence Day, det
Independence Day, detail.

Independence Day, for example, is an urban tableau depicting several actions taking place over time in one compact epic picture. The 4-foot-long work shows fireworks over the artist’s Chinatown North neighborhood. A dog is tied between two prison-like condo buildings and a human figure with another dog approaches the tethered animal. Further on in the same painting, the figure—now with two dogs—is seen running up the street. McEneaney said at the opening that the painting is about her rescue of a dog that had been tied up outside in the rain.

Sarah McEneaney, Independence Day, detail
McEneaney and Trixie, having rescued the dog, run back to her house. She
called the SPCA, she said.

Where McEneaney’s tableaux are Bruegel-esque with small figures in a huge land, Christian Curiel—a Puerto-Rican-born New York artist—makes symbolist paintings with jumbo children and adolescents in postapocalyptic landscapes filled with dead or dying animals. The heated atmosphere and ambiguity of Curiel’s works are nice counterpoints to McEneaney’s cool.

curielhole.jpg
Christian Curiel’s large paintings have references to Diego Rivera’s murals and to Frida Kahlo’s use of animals as symbols of psychological states. Note the three-legged horse.

Matthew Suib’s video appropriations of Hollywood movies—some denuded of their players and others focused exclusively on the human face or body—might seem the outlier in this show. But Suib’s works are conceptual narrations and, like Curiel’s and McEneaney’s, fiercely humanist in theme.

Matthew Suib, Cocked
Matthew Suib’s Cocked, a montage of close-up shots of faces from Hollywood westerns, takes suspenseful scenes and eviscerates them by extracting the action. These guys squint and scowl ….and next scene they’re smiling! What’s missing, the mayhem, is never missed since the lovingly portrayed faces are gripping in and of themselves.

Cocked and The Desert Loops both subvert martial material by turning it into an elegy about violence and loss of life. Suib’s new video Untitled (Flooded Room), commissioned by Moore and projected on its 20th Street facade, is a rumination on lives lost after Katrina.

Matthew Suib, Untitled (Flooded Room) close.jpg
Suib, Untitled (Flooded Room) is shown each night from 7-midnight, projected on the Moore Galleries back door.

Narrative art is slippery, and the best of it is subversive, mixing fact and fiction to suggest universal truths. This push for truth is what makes narrative art a rich playground for the mind.

“Facts, Fantasies and Fictions”
Through Dec. 9. Galleries at Moore, 20th St. and the Pkwy. 215.965.4045.

Tags

christian curiel, facts fantasies and fictions, galleries at moore, matthew suib, sarah mceneaney

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