19 February 2007

Get Thee To Pierogi

Michael Schall, Mining The Crevasse, 2007. Image stolen from Pierogi's website.

There's a hint of earnestness in the air. And I like it.

I know, I know. That is not a sexy hook in a world where Dash Snow still manages to titilate. But it is interesting. Instead of seeing Some Lazy Strewn Something, or Documentation of a Studied, Self-Oriented Artist's Personal Obsession, or Pretty Doodles...

...I walked into Pierogi Saturday and found art that takes itself a little seriously. That does existential heavy lifting. That asks questions.

Michael Schall's drawings and Jonathan Schipper's Pinnate Phlogiston installation work well together--it was great to look at Schall's work while smelling exhaust and listening to gallerinas explain that they can only run the sculpture for thirty seconds because it poisons them. This atmosphere gave the drawings a sense of danger that they would otherwise aspire to. And Schall's drawings evoke a bleakness and carefulness that sets a person into the right frame of mind to watch Schipper's Firebird birds slowly, lamely turn. There is a stupidness to this piece--the way it poisons, the inelegance of the kinetic gesture and how that clunkiness compares to how expensive it looks--that could turn a viewer off. You could look at this thing and start trying to fix it, or start running up the budget for it in the McMaster-Carr Catalog In Your Mind. But in this installation, after looking at Schall's drawings, you can see it for what it actually is and kind of fall in love. This thing is a poem written by a teenager, complete with shadowy effects and too much explanation and eight cylinders of bravado with no wheels, going nowhere. It is the first effective thing I have seen come out of the 2003-04 Chelsea Goth Obsession. It actually harnesses angst to a larger, truly important question. It actually asks about the space between the engine and the tree. How necessary.

Schall's work is much more straightforward--less ambitious, but also less frought. These careful blandscapes out of graphite on paper are looking at the space between what we build and the earth it sits on. And they derive a certain cold elegance by focusing pretty much exclusively on that boundary and nothing else. The logic of these drawings seems to be in flux. Sometimes the image is driven by verbs--the earth swallowing up or lifting the built world--and sometimes its more of a visual thing, as in: I see a vista of spindly peaks and imagine that there are conduits inside these peaks. Of course, I am biased. I like the verb-driven drawings. A lot. And I like them because they are cold and elegant and simple. They are the opposite of histrionic. They want to understand, not judge or fear.

If they don't already, I think that Schall and Schipper should collaborate, or at least have coffee regularly. I envision a world in which Schall takes more chances, and in which Schipper makes elegant choices that foil or complicate his desparation and striving, and that world makes me grin from ear to ear. These artists are doing important intellectual work, and it is going to be great fun watching them continue to grow, learn and push. They are framing "the environment" as the existential problem it is, and we all desperately need this kind of understanding.

Even if it means abandoning irony and taking a chance on riskier, more rigorous tactics.


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