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Bambi Biennial and In the Beginning


Alan Prazniak Revenge of the Innocents (detail), 2007, charcoal on paper, photo courtesy of Bambi Gallery, © Alan Prazniak

Two juried shows are currently on view in Philadelphia with different aims and in different contexts. Bambi Gallery in Fishtown is showing it’s tongue-in-cheek titled Bambi Biennial through March 16. The 18 artists were selected by Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof – yes – Artblog‘s Roberta and Libby. Lest this seem like an insider job, I’m planning to discuss the artists, not the selection, except to say that Fallon and Rosof favored artists whose work they didn’t know and had lots of choices. The exhibition includes sculpture, painting, drawing, photography, video and a couple of knives (yup, two by Ellen Rockower with blades crafted with multiple layers folded during forging, which creates swirling patterns when seen from a slight angle; it’s the technique used for Japanese Samurai swords).

Won Kyoung Lee Sushi (2007) clear vinyl, bubble-wrap, rubber bands, staples, photo courtesy of Bambi Gallery, © Won Kyoung Lee

On entering the gallery I was bowled over by Alan Prazniak’s charcoal drawing, Revenge of the Innocents. Approximately seven feet high and pinned to the wall it looked like a subject from one of Maurice Sendak’s darker stories, but drawn with the vigor and compressed composition of Max Beckmann. Across from the drawing was Won Kyoung Lee’s modular piece, Sushi; constructed of clear vinyl sections filled with bubble-wrap and stapled at the edges, it was assembled as a chair (fully functional) but could be re-configured as a low couch or a table. It was witty and mouth-watering, with a backwards look at 1960’s inflatable plastic furniture. Steven Starr could make great use of her work for one of his fashionable eateries.

Catherine Maloney Untitled Number 9 (2007) ink-jet print, photo courtesy of the artist, © Catherine Maloney

Catherine Maloney showed two luscious color ink-jet prints, sufficiently manipulated (Photoshop, I assume) that they could be mistaken for watercolors. From a distance they appeared abstract; only up-close did the light spots resolve into patterns of swimmers that might have come from a modern re-make of an Esther Williams film.

Tory Franklin Nous Faisons (2007) acrylic, screenprint, graphite, water-soluble crayons, tyvec and wallpaper, photo courtesy of Bambi Gallery, © Tory Franklin

Tory Franklin’s animated video was a bit too reminiscent of the opening credits of Monty Python’s Flying Circus, but her wall installation, Nous Faisons, a drawing collaged over the screen-printed wall managed to be humorous as well as decorative on a large scale.

Guests at the opening of Bambi Biennial with two of Josh Kerner’s handguns. photo courtesy of Libby Rosof

The opening had something of the character of a costume party since K-Fai Steele and a group of friends showed up in identical cat costumes, all of which matched her almost human-sized, papier mache sculpture of a pair of cats. The group performs in Steele’s video The Cat People of Venice, which was screened on Feb. 9. The fancy-dress impression was also due to the life-size hand-guns and rifles in candy colors that various guests handed around. The styrofoam weapons were part of Josh Kerner’s life-sized gun-rack and the artist encouraged people to handle them (but not to take them home as party favors). In the context of Philadelphia’s current epidemic of shootings, neither the styrofoam nor the pastel hues rendered them any less disturbing.

The other artists in the exhibition are Dan McCartney, Rika Hawes, Michael Hurst, Jennie Thwing, Joseph Di Giuseppe, Ben Will, Justin Coffin, Gregory Carafelli, Daniel Payavis, Alana Bograd and Chase Browder.

Seung Jae Kim Self Portrait Board #2 (2007) archival inkjet print, 30 x 40", photo Andrea Kirsh © Seung Jae Kim
Seung Jae Kim Self Portrait Board #2 (2007) archival inkjet print, 30 x 40″, photo Andrea Kirsh © Seung Jae Kim

In the Beginning; Exploring Origins in Contemporary Art is part of the Graduate Humanities Forum of the Penn Humanities Forum (up through Feb. 29 in Logan Hall, University of Pennsylvania). The exhibition was organized by Joseph Benatov and curated and juried by Sharka Hyland, Martha Lucy and Shayna McConville to coincide with the theme of this year’s Humanities Forum, which is Origins. The breadth of that subject can be gleaned from the topics of the Forum’s lectures which include original sin, Googalization, origins of obesity and Kiki Smith on her sources. The 49 exhibiting artists addressed archetypes, place origins, the origin of consciousness, of life, of art, and evolution. Rather than search for each work’s original intent I preferred to view the exhibition as a group of discrete artworks, taking each on its own terms.

Rachel Sussman Welwitchia Mirabilis #0707-22411 (2,000 Years Old; Namib Naukluft Desert, Namibia) (2007), archival digital pigment print, 44 x 54″, photo Andrea Kirsh © Rachel Sussman

Seung Jae Kim’s photos played with photography as both image and object. His spare apartment interior contains two cubes bearing a head-shot of the artist (front and back); the eyes of the image, in a timeworn gimmick of painted portraiture, watch the viewer observing the rooms. Kim questions photography’s inherent voyeurism as well as our readiness to accept its truthfulness. Rachel Sussman’s extraordinary, full-frontal portrait of a plant is straight photography notable because of its combination of size and subject. Welwitchia Mirabilis is one of the oldest living things known; some specimens may be 1500-2000 years old. It’s rare to see the plant kingdom portrayed with such grandeur.

Rod Northcutt Bathtub Genesis (Making Friends Slowly) (2007), ink on Bristol board, 25 x 31″, photo Andrea Kirsh © Rod Northcutt

Rod Northcutt’s drawing of a putative set of plumbing instructions recalls both the anthropomorphizing of Picabia’s machine portraits (e.g. a camera as Alfred Stieglitz) and Rube Goldberg’s wacky inventions. Hongwei Li’s stacked busts in diminishing sizes suggest sets of Russian dolls, with scored surfaces resembling tilled soil (hence the title, Landscape ?).

Hongwei Li Landscape #3 (2006) earthenware, 39 x 18 x 7″ photo Andrea Kirsh © Hongwei Li

Three small paintings by Tara Giannini portray a high-keyed romantic view of Eden, complete with cake-icing frames embellished with three-dimensional creatures; the surround of Theater of Artificiality sported a small caterpillar, a bee and some artificial flowers.

Tara Giannini Theater of Artificiality (2007) oil and acrylic paint, taxidermied insect, jewels and glitter on panel, 7 x 8.5″ photo Andrea Kirsh © Tara Giannini