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Levonian and Campuzano at Fleisher/Ollman


The only image I’ve ever seen of a woman shaving her armpits is in an ad or commercial for shaving products. But Jennifer Levonian’s stop-action animation Her Slip is Showing begins with just that. It’s a dead-on metaphor of a woman trying to make herself acceptable and beat back her natural self as she dresses for a childhood friend’s wedding shower.

Jennifer Levonian, Her Slip is Showing (left) and Buffalo Milk Yogurt (right) installed at Fleisher/Ollman

Her Slip is Showing is one of two videos Levonian has on view in her first solo show of the same name at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery this month. The other video, Buffalo Milk Yogurt, has a wonderful image of a young man dousing his hair above the vegetables during a “produce spraying is about to begin” moment at a Whole Foods-like market.

Levonian’s movies are like silent films, visually jumpy, the action sometimes explicated with titles or text, and no dialog. In Her Slip, the background music is provided by Nathan Parker Smith with titles by poet Polly Pauley. The music in Yogurt is by Corey Fogel. But the throw-back to silent movies is misleading. The work is utterly contemporary and timely. The titles in Her Slip are written on iPod screens advanced by the push of a finger.

The videos capture the the ludicrous quotidian in things we take for granted in our daily lives. In Her Slip, she skewers the conventional pre-wedding world, from the future bride’s chorus line of girlfriends sniffing the scented candle gifts; to the fruit cut-outs on sticks, arranged like a bouquet, at the wedding-shower buffet; to the bride kicking her feet with pleasure as she unwraps the shower loot. Likewise in Yogurt, Levonian skewers the self-righteous consumers of crunchy-granola specialty foods, blind to their own foibles, including driving gas guzzlers to pick up their no-steroids no-chemicals all-natural foods.

But the videos go beyond mere slices of life. They are ah-hah moments crystallized in a fairly innocent illustrational style and low-tech look of the animation–very Martha Colburn– that seduces with its apparent safety at the same time that it pulls the rug out from under societal assumptions. Whether it’s the metaphor of the raccoon trying to climb in the window at the shower, or the nude yoga practitioner among the cantaloupes, Levonian always goes somewhere slightly surreal to question the values and organization of a society that has lulled itself into complacency.

The watercolor cutout shapes Levonian uses to create her videos are also on display. Levonian is also at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to May 31, with her new video Take Your Picture with a Puma in the Live Cinema program. (Colburn’s Join the Freedom Force video comes next, in June; Philadelphia artist Joshua Mosley’s new sculpture-based stop-action animation, International, is scheduled for July).

Also at Fleisher/Ollman Anthony Campuzano has his third solo show All Right-Still! at the gallery. Campuzano has made a successful career exploring the familiar media of our lives–daily newspaper headlines and stories, phrases, media images and now coloring book pages–but his approach is the exact opposite of Levonian’s. Rather than soothe with the imagery before pulling out the rug, he removes the familiar, creating a threatening landscape of agitated marks and spatial disruptions, a world of static and jumpiness, where the normal unsettles. He virtually fills Fleisher/Ollman’s large gallery space with 15 works–10 drawings and two sculptures.

Anthony Campuzano, Collide (left) and Collide, Weather-Related Version (right), diptych, 2009-2010, colored pencil, graphite, ink, photographs on board, each 40 x 30 inches.

In the diptych Collide and Collide, Weather-Related Version, the glamor of photos from romance novels is disrupted by lines and dots that bring to mind film, lenses, television test patterns, champagne bubbles and the good life–gone bad. The fate of the original Collide, which was damaged (these two pieces are a re-creation and on the right a re-creation incorporating photo details of the original), becomes a metaphor for all the threats that can destroy art, romance, myth-making and life. And just as an fyi, the diptych is hung next to a drawing of the studio where the original Collide met its dismal fate.

Anthony Campuzano, AM/PM

In the drawing AM/PM Campuzano notes the different ways two news stories get played in the AM and PM editions of a paper, another vagary in the value-laden world of textual communication. Weighting with scale two versions one against the other becomes an exercise in nonsensical meanings and meaninglessness and futility.  In Campuzano’s existential search for meaning in the scratchings of his fellow humans, Campuzano keeps coming up against the craziness of it all.

Anthony Campuzano, detail, For Alexander Girard, 2009-2010, plexiglas with colored pencil on found coloring book pages, 41 x 43 x 10 1/2 inches

In the center of the gallery, the plexi bookshelf construction For Alexander Girard, Campuzano undercuts the prescriptive lines of coloring book pages with atypical use of color and unexpected matings of shapes. The disruption creates a group of jittery products that compete with themselves and each other (Modernist textile designer Alexander Girard wiki page here). The ultimate effect is somewhere between annoying and charming–more of an exercise in bad boyness, in coloring outside the lines (well he doesn’t really). The awkward plexiglas structure is at once furniture-like and store-displayish. The and standard plexi picture frames are arranged in coy family portrait pairings. This goofy pairing ultimately (and surprisingly) lifts what I take as a mere exercise into something that annoys me enough to interest me. It screams for attention and promises with glittery surface and hokey display something it ultimately refuses to deliver–a safe, familiar place. This frustration is classic Campuzano and although I wanted to reject it, I ended up finding myself signed, sealed and delivered in its favor, although I surely wouldn’t want to spend more than 3 minutes in its presence.

Anthony Campuzano, Juan Gris Portrait of Max Jacob 1919 Via Elena Sisto Circa 1997, 2010, colored pencil, graphite, photographs & ink on board, 20 x 20 inches. Sisto was Campuzano’s drawing teacher

On the other hand, I was deeply moved by Juan Gris Portrait of Max Jacob 1919 Via Elena Sisto Circa 1997, that in recreating a portrait of poet Max Jacob on a postcard over and over, Campuzano creates a portrait of himself and his own driven mark making. In typical Campuzano mode, he makes you fight your way through the words and imagery, but this time he hands you the rationale on a silver platter, tips his hand on who he is.

Anthony Campuzano, Unpainted Painted Sculpture

Gallery director Amy Adams mentioned to me that the word sculpture Unpainted Painted Sculpture was fabricated by the high-tech machinery at Next Fab. Like the Juan Gris Portrait…. piece, the work is about art history as well as present-day art making.  Adams explained that after David Smith died, Clement Greenberg expressed his distaste for the artist’s painted sculptures by leaving them outside to be stripped bare of color by the elements. Campuzano’s barely readable words say: Clement wanted all of the paint to all fall off David Smith’s sculptures. (Campuzano’s piece offers one unpainted surface for Greenberg, the rest coated in honor of Smith; clearly, Smith comes out the winner).  This piece, which though fragile in feeling, like a giant Mark Mahosky, is the height of a person and made of metal. Whether that fragility refers to Greenberg, that bastard who now is much maligned, or to Smith, whose work was threatened, I cannot say, but the piece has a great presence.

Campuzano also has another gig, Summer Studio, coming up this summer at the ICA, where he will transform the second floor into an studio and classroom space beginning July 1. Dead of Summer sounds more like art than instruction, but it also sounds like fun, plus it’s free and open to the public.

These two exhibits run through June 12, 2010.