AREA reopens in grand style

by Christopher Moore | 2/19/02 6:00am

Last Thursday, AREA, the consortium of senior studio art majors and their wall in the Hopkins Center, opened its second three-week show of paintings.

AREA openings are an uncanny scene: they appropriate the Top of the Hop from the cocktail parties of alumni and corporate recruiting hob-nobbers for student-planned, student-attended soirees in which students do exactly the same thing. The usual crowd visits the cash bar, listens to good music and mingles in small groups which look more fluid than they really are.

As atendees appraise art they are smart enough to be confused about whether they like it or not, I have a sneaking suspicion that what's going on is very ironic insofar as these social gatherings are -- being always at the height of irony, not ironic at all.

The derivativeness of each unveiling (even the three-dot logo and font mimic other digital arts exhibitions) does not compromise the authenticity of this new student art space.

The curators hang two Jordan Benke '02 self-portraits together. Benke wears the same chalk-green tee-shirt in both; only aspect ratio, viewing angle (about 10 degrees) and that in one he leans away from the viewer in a vague slouch waiting for a vaguer thought while in the other he poses in the same slouch, differentiate the two excellent paintings. At the show's opening Benke wore the same shirt.

Victoria Makol '02 has on display, along with two fine color photographs, two beautiful black-and-white photographs. In one, a classically-columned facade of ambiguous age bears down silently on a bit of plaza below it.

Another depicts the corridor of a gothic cathedral reaching to a ceiling. In both, a woman walks on the plaza and among the icons, oblivious to the gentle but magnificent grandeur around her. What is twice art, architecturally and photographically, seems irrelevant to this woman, whose interior world has awe unmatched by the world.

Who is this hermetic woman? It is Sarah Jessica Parker. She is ambivalent to Germany's riches because she is not in Germany. Makol downloaded some photos of Parker from the Internet, Photoshopped her into some other pictures, and printed out these stunning pieces.

In AREA, both artistic practice and theory are satisfied: good work gets shown; theory, inchoate and inarticulate when bantered about in Rosey's, becomes manifest.

In the mediated spectacle, the jouissance and play, the wonderful absurdity of an invisible but somehow necessary $10,000 wall, the wall is content and form.

That AREA has a subtitle, "student art space," that shifts it from the media of facades and into the anxious world of the real. Wars, or battles, have been fought, or won, for such actual student-controlled art space (the drama students have had, as yet, no luck).

Possession may need to be reasserted continually, both to those who control wall space, and to the artists themselves (who are not the least shy folks around). It would be nice if student art were "ordinary" on campus, as a thing which one looked at daily as one looks at Baker Tower.

But perhaps art should never become ordinary. Perhaps art must be the event which happens only surprisingly. Art, the intentional finding of extraordinariness in the ordinary, has always already been lacking. The ORC is never breathless, but were it, it might announce that our job as liberal art students is to be artful.

Being artful, one should always be playful, for play is both being a copy-cat, making-believe, pretending, as well as being extraordinary, unusual, novel.

Daniele Genadry '02 includes an accomplished winter scene of a New England intersection. One admires the power lines and the brick buildings, wishes the roofs interfered less with our view of the trees, enjoys the general ambience and then realizes that half the painting is of the Lodge.

Laura Tepper '02 has a painting of a cellar with a gang of a dozen gangly halogen lamps huddled together against an equally ruffian-looking posse of oscillating fans. An elemental battle of "light" and "air" is deflated into a scrimmage of household appliance detritus.

Play does not have to be funny. In Sarah Norsworthy '02's best painting (maybe the best in this show), a dark orange, red and brown abstraction, with fierce energies following Renaissance logics of composition, faint pencil or ink Miro-esque figures dance as afterimages.

People-like things may inhabit a world of channeled chaos, or maybe they don't. Whether they do seems to matter less than that they could, or that they may as well.

Some viewers may want a less theoretical experience. For them, we note that AREA is, "in objective fact," about 20 good paintings on a long wall. Here is some art for you. Such an approach is okay, but not enlivening. The silly is enlivening.

Every excess of the AREA opening -- 200 cupcakes, three deejays displacing the discourse of sound reproduction, the fact that there is a "usual crowd" -- cuts hard against the seriousness of the largely univalent social and cultural life here at the College.