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Polar Opposites

LUMP gallery's new show is crude and nude; Steinway Gallery puts together a classical and elegant Sculpture Spectacular


Crude drawings cover the walls of Raleigh's LUMP gallery right now, comprising an exhibition of 40 artists called Bad Touch. According to an explanatory leaflet handed out at the Dec. 7 opening, "There are two types of drawing, a traditional academic style and everything else." Judging from Bad Touch, "everything else" can mean anything from artists searching out new modes of expression to right-handers using their left hands to stab at pieces of notebook paper with a dull pencil.

Most of the works in this exhibition are untitled, which may be an effort to escape labeling, but could also signal laziness. This is unfortunate, as titles can be an effective way of contextualizing artwork, and these works would benefit from being contextualized.

As is often the case with LUMP shows, there are plenty of exposed genitalia. The show could be subtitled "Dicks and Tits"--at least a quarter of the work displays one or both of the two. It's impossible to know whether the artists were aware of what images the others were producing; nevertheless, collectively, these works play like a tired attempt to shock the viewer.

The biggest problem here, however, is the way that text has been incorporated into some drawings. Since a generation of young painters were enraptured by the portrayal of text-user Basquiat in Julian Schnabel's bio-pic of the artist, text has become the easy method many artists are using to reference their favorite painter-personality. One example of a good drawing ruined by text is Philadelphia artist Andrew Jeffrey Wright's "So Psyched," which features a creepy, orb-headed man pointing at the viewer in front of a well-drawn green-striped background. Wright's style is accomplished, and the subject's face is intriguing; Wright's lines are confident and unbroken, and he creates a characterization mostly with well-placed lines beneath the eyes. The problem is, the character is saying, "I'm so psyched I didn't get you pregnant." This might connect if the quote were the title of the work, as it could provide a punchline to a drawing that otherwise stands on its own. It would be better, though, if Wright were confident enough in his work and his audience to expect that a woman viewing this drawing might supply this joke herself.

Worth noting are two artists from East Carolina University--Stewart Sineath and Tyler Wolf--who are opening a gallery in Greenville called Emerge. Wolf's work is one of many examples of artful doodling at the show, but his drawings are among the best. His pieces, each on a tiny sheet of paper, work together well. While some of them at first seem to be aimless scribbles, others are clearly human forms. After realizing that some are human forms, it becomes apparent that there are more human forms in drawings that originally seemed to be aimless scribbles. Also in their favor is that these are the least expensive works here, going for only five bucks apiece.

Sineath's work is even better. This artist uses found photos (mostly Polaroids) that are water damaged or warped, which he draws on with a black marker. The drawings are stained and the colors have bled, creating some remarkable accidental hues. The way that he incorporates the splotches is uncanny, and it's hard to believe that he hasn't cheated by coloring some of the photos himself. In one representative piece, the background from the photo is still visible, and Sineath has drawn Sharpie creatures dwelling inside of an underlit middle-class home. The result is quite eerie, animating a lifeless, recognizable space with absurd monstrosities.

The best works at Bad Touch, however, are pencil drawings by an artist who does not know that his work is up. Referring to him only as David, gallery owner Bill Thelen gathered this artist's work when he was a student of Thelen's at UNC-Chapel Hill. The series is called "Jazz Heads," and features a dozen portraits of jazz greats, among them Thelonious Monk, with trademark hat and cigarette. Thelen says that David is 19 or 20 years old and had trouble concentrating in class because of his ADD. While the pencil lines in these drawings are thin, the decisions David has made are bold, opting for rough-and-ready immediacy over portrait-style accuracy.

Thelen said that he was a little worried about how people in the area might react to Bad Touch because he was afraid it might be "too loose for them." He added, however, that judging from the opening, locals are responding to it positively, and Thelen's confidence in the show remains high. After finishing its run here, it will go to Space 1026 in Philadelphia for a February run.

The artists featured at the Sculpture Spectacular at Chapel Hill's Steinway Gallery are more concerned with classicism, tradition. While the artists of Bad Touch aim for crude anomalies, most of the sculptors here are aiming for elegance.

Gallery co-owner Pat Steinway describes this show as "a colossal effort." It hosts over 100 different pieces of sculpture, using all media--including marble, bronze, wood, metal, and stainless steel. The Steinway Gallery endeavors here to "explore sculpture in all sorts of forms," according to Steinway. They are more than able in this respect, as Steinway is one of the only local galleries with the patio and lawn space needed to showcase large sculpture.

Massachusetts sculptor Rob Lorenson's 11-foot-high "Stars and Stripes" stands out front, a giant ring with stars perched along the top half of the circle, and wavy red stripes painted vertically along the bottom. After the show, it will be auctioned on eBay, and 15 percent of the proceeds will go to a Sept. 11 relief fund. While that's a nice gesture, the piece itself, with its gaudy plays to patriotism, is a kitschy eyesore, as are many of the outdoor sculptures, which look like they belong in front of office buildings, as corporate art.

Once past the lawn art and inside however, visitors will discover no shortage of table-top elegance. There is little here that is not pleasing to the eye--if not exactly challenging. Among the better pieces are those of Westport, N.Y.'s Robert Leming and Baltimore's Rodney Carroll. In Leming's work, optical quality acrylic is used to make a basic shape (often a circle), which is then broken and bent in a few places. In these works, the unity of a basic object is broken, and a lyrical fluidity moves around the break. Add to this the translucency of Leming's acrylic, and the way light possesses the shape, and you have an electric, entirely modern piece.

Carroll is not dissimilar to Leming in the continuity of his forms. Carroll's smaller works use a small space to harness palpable spatial energy. His shapes are bent bronze rectangles dancing around each other with rhythmic elasticity, creating an upward movement that seems as though it could propel the object off of the table.

The Sculpture Spectacular is highly successful as an exercise in aesthetic pleasantries. But where the artists at Bad Touch come up short when they try to shock, the artists at the Steinway Gallery are a tad innocuous in their eagerness to please. It's difficult to imagine two shows more dissimilar. If they have anything in common, it's that they're both mixed bags, with a few interesting artists buried in shows too broad in scope for their own good. EndBlock

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