Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Ordinary and Quite Extraordinary 'Superheroes'

"Wonderwoman’s Unraveling," above, reveals the many facets of the superheroine. Drawing by Tania Marmolejo.

WITH the official Broadway opening of the beleaguered “Spider-Man, Turn Off The Dark” pushed back to 15 March, “Superheroes” comes to the rescue.

The group exhibit at Casita Maria Center for Arts and Education (http://http://www.casita.us//) is on view from 21 January through 2 March.

Most superheroes and superheroines are normal people who are powerless in the face of injustice, but through happenstance, a chemical reaction in the brain or freak accident are transformed into unrecognizable – and in some cases – frightening figures.

“Superheroes,” curated by Wirth Art Advisory, offers 10 very different viewpoints on the notion – a number of them rather surprising.

Tania Marmolejo’s "Wonderwoman’s Unraveling" is no fully-formed Lynda Carter, who portrayed the heroine in a popular '70s TV series. In the hands of the Dominican animator and painter, the superheroine – utterly undone – is a sum of many parts and moods. Inlaid on what appears to be a mass of hair are charcoal-like drawings of a female figure situated in various positions wearing red thigh-highs or thigh-high boots and myriad facial expressions. She is a work in progress. One drawing depicts her got up in the signature Wonder Woman uniform sans rope. “The drawing represents a birth of some sort, a moment unraveling that lets us know her destiny will be different, that she is unique,” TM says in the press notes.

“My Brother Before Third Deployment.” Photo by James Seward.

Very democratic is one of two meditations on another familiar super hero figure. “Batman and Batman” travels solo – without Robin. “Batman and Batman represents a level multiplicity where ideas can flow freely without inherent structure,” the artist duo of the same name explains. “The work comes out of our conversation so is always already based on language.” The language, presented in brightly colored squares a la a triptych, have power: "Zlott! Whap!! Kapow! oOOFF! Bam!”

On the one hand more accessible and on the other less so is “My Brother Before Third Deployment.” The way the light hits points on the face of Brooklyn-based photographer James Seward’s sibling gives him an otherworldly quality – almost as if he is a digital cartoon. This soldier, photographed in uniform before his third deployment – to where it is not disclosed, is looking ahead, away from the camera. He is focused and resolute, a world away. What is he thinking? About unspeakable horrors of war? In carrying out his duty has he comported himself like a super villain? Or a super hero, freeing the world of oppressive forces? It is as JS explains: An encounter that is “both intimate and remote.” And full of mystery.

Haunting portrait of a Chinese woman in "Tiananmen." Painting by Ruth Ava Lyons.

Mysterious, too, is “Tiananmen.” The Chinese woman in the painting has sad eyes. Her mouth is slightly ajar. She may be crying out for justice or crying out against injustice. Whether she is hopeful or happy is up to the viewer. “I did this painting in 1989 after the Tiananmen Massacre," reveals Ruth Ava Lyons, currently of Charlotte. "It is dedicated to the people that I feel are heroes for standing up for their human rights.”

Another super hero is the venue for “Superheroes.” Situated near the troubled Hunts Point section of the South Bronx, the Casita Maria Center is considered a safe space that brings art of all forms to the neighborhood.

Learn more about “Superheroes” at http://wirthartadvisory.com/.

“Existential Emptiness” or, Female in Chinese Society
Cui Xiuwen "Existential Emptiness No. 5, 2009."

Is it possible that the folks at Eli Klein Fine Arts gallery knew about Chinese President Hu Jintao’s state visit to the United States this week?

Is there a correlation between the opening of “Existential Emptiness” tomorrow and the first day of President Hu’s state visit today in Washington, where he will talk currency valuation, trade imbalances and other prickly issues with President Barack Obama?

Unlikely. No doubt it’s lucky coincidence/dumb luck that the gallery is hosting prominent Chinese photographer Cui Xiuwen in her first solo show in New York while the chief executive of her country is working a few hours away.

CX often explores the id of girls in Chinese society. In “Existential Emptiness,” she contemplates the woman as an individual. In the main, she uses digital monochromatic photos, lending them a painting-like quality. The photos are also austere and torpid, which doesn’t bode well for the meaning of individual woman in Chinese society, the country’s Industrial-Technological revolutions notwithstanding.

Cui Xiuwen, “ Emptiness No. 18, 2009.”

Here, CX reveals a pessimism that is almost absent from her previous work. Gone is the insouciance of youth, replaced by the discontentedness of adulthood. Some pictures bring to mind the film, Ethan Frome – a star of which is the dreary, gray backdrop of a northern New England winter.

CX considers various matters – abandonment of perceived self and attempts at self-actualization, amongst them. Duality is another area of exploration in “Existential Emptiness.” The most obvious visual representation of this is the girl that is ubiquitous in CX’s work, accompanied by her older self represented as a doll. It as though they hold mirrors up to each other.

On view until 27 Feb., “Existential Emptiness” is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog (continuing the duality, no? ) that includes an essay by art critic and film maker Michel Nuridsany.

Learn more about “Existential Emptiness” at http://www.ekfineart.com/html/home.asp.

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