What’s Up At the August Galleries?

  • by Sura Wood
  • Sunday August 11, 2013
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We now live in a 24/7 world, but in days of yore, August was when art dealers shuttered their doors and left for summer vacation. Based on empirical evidence (see below), however, local galleries are in full swing this month.

"Joshua Lutz: Hesitating Beauty" and "Identity: Psychological Portraiture" are a pair of photography shows worth catching before the end of the month. Lutz's troubling pictorial essay of his mother's paranoid schizophrenia, taken from his new monograph, is a composite of family snapshots and the artist's own photographs; together they mirror the unruly progression of her disintegrating psyche and unreliable perception of reality. "Hesitating Beauty" is an emotional record of collateral damage, a suitably non-linear narrative of an illness that besets highly intelligent individuals and can be hereditary (a scary birthright). It also holds the people who love them captive to their erratic behavior and delusions like the highway exit sign with no destination ("Exit 17," 2010) and a towering man in a gorilla suit pillaging the garden ("Pretty Boy Floyd," 2010).

In "Screaming Ocean" (2010), a scratched-up shot of a gray day at the beach, a spectral presence stands behind a young boy, presumably Lutz, being pummeled by the rough surf; and in a disturbing intimation of suicide, "Hangnot, Slipknot" (2009), a gnarled vine rests against a stone wall adjacent to a noose waiting for someone to put their head inside it. Contrast that with a portrait of promise unfulfilled: A teenage girl in her high school graduation picture, her eyes half-closed, unaware of the fate that lay ahead.

The group show Identity features disquieting contemporary and vintage images in which many of the subjects' faces are obscured, depriving us of the visual cues we instinctively seek for signs of danger. Delaney Allen presents himself in several self-portraits with his face all or partially covered, blank slates on which to project our fantasies; Roger Ballen, who judging from his pictures appears to reside in bizarro land, poses with trick glasses among a rogue's gallery of bug-eyed dolls and paintings ("Place of the Eyeballs," 2012), and elsewhere, costumed in a furry cat-suit and whiskers ("Malicious," 2012). Jan Saudek's counterintuitively titled "Suzanna, the Face of My Tender Love" (1978) is a beauty-and-the-beast photograph of a nubile, half-naked woman wearing a Neanderthal caveman mask. An important photographer who trod on the margins of the art world, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, an artist partial to imagery of masked children in rural overgrown settings and abandoned houses, gets welcome exposure here. Robert Koch Gallery, through Aug. 24; kochgallery.com.

"Jamie Baldridge: Almost Fiction" Picture a quasi-theologian from a small town in the Deep South who, consigned to a childhood of "Catholic tedium," retreated into his untamed imagination, and you've got a glimmer of Baldridge's subversive gestalt. The photographer, who lives and works in Louisiana, home to bayous and black magic, has been bewitched by fairy tales since he was a kid. He has filtered those loaded fables through his subconscious, tempered them with dystopia, tasty fetishes and research gleaned from the musty stacks of Latin scholarship, and emerged with the painterly surrealistic vision contained in his latest tome, which shares the title of this show.

In images accompanied by fanciful text reflecting the artist's bent world view, some of his subjects appear trapped in a garret, occupied in futile tasks while patiently awaiting rescue. In period clothing or in varying degrees of undress and more often than not with Rube Goldberg-like contraptions (think Terry Gilliam) stationed precariously on their heads, they're all dressed up with no place to go. Take the woman whose face and head are covered with a birdcage ("A Ten-Penny Prophet") or a girl in Victorian dress, an arrow shot through her bloodied heart ("Babylon"), and yet another in a frilly white frock and knee socks, snoozing in a chair, resigned to the ball-and-chain attached to her ankle ("The Perils of Lepidoptery"). Ceremonial Popes' mitres and pointy dunce caps abound, representing a history of old-time religious repression rewritten by a mischievous boy sent to the corner one too many times. Modernbook Gallery, through Sept. 28; modernbook.com.

"IC. Cont #57" (2012), acrylic and mixed media on wood panel by Aime Mpane. Photo: Courtesy the artist and Haines Gallery

"Aime Mpane: A Dual Perspective" Mpane, a multi-disciplinary artist who divides his time between his native Congo and Belgium, references Cubism's origins in Primitivism and taps into his African ancestry for his murals and rustic masks. Made of layered plywood and finished with an adze, a Stone Age implement, they're topographical sculptures of the human face, contoured bas-reliefs etched with wounded memory. Those whose faces have gone missing, their identities perhaps erased by force or the need to escape harm, are among pieces that evoke the tortured colonial history of the Congo, a country whose people continue to endure atrocities, and where brutal conflicts over natural resources have led to mass rape as a weapon of war. Mpane harnesses that legacy yet retains hope, his optimism signified by the ubiquitous presence of exuberant color.

His most recent series, "Demoiselles d'Avignon," draws on Picasso's influential 1907 painting of the denizens of a Barcelona brothel, a work inspired by that artist's embrace of Oceanic and African art. Mpane depicts seven prostitutes through double-sided masks with contorted facial features suggesting the hidden, contradictory facets of character and personality. Reminiscent of Pende medicine masks intended to ward off illness and evil spirits, they, like other artworks in the show, are a paean to survival. Haines Gallery, through Aug. 31; hainesgallery.com.

News Flash: In response to skyrocketing rents in the city and/or the allure of a revitalized urban arts district, four prominent downtown galleries - Catherine Clark, Brian Gross, Jack Fischer and George Lawson - are relocating to venues in the lower Portrero Hill neighborhood, where they'll launch inaugural shows in their new digs, Sept. 7.