Monday, February 25, 2008

Affected, Afflicted

Tandem Gallery goes from strength to strength even without a permanent physical space. PDA: Public Displays of Affection/Affliction opened last Friday night, and although I went early to miss the crowds I can only describe the show as fantastic.

Hats off to JD Conley for taking such a great risk and for curating such great shows. He fully understands the implications of bringing leading edge contemporary art to Birmingham, Alabama. With a small buying market and an often conservative cultural climate, Conley merely ignores these obstacles to make shows such as these.

PDA is an unusual mix of commercially available works and pieces from private collections. At times disappointing only to the extent that one of the show’s best works, Sue De Beer’s The Kiss, isn’t actually available, PDA works across disciplines and media to show some hard-hitting pieces of challenging contemporary art.

Imagine actually being able to install Lizzi Bougatsos’ work “Love Comes in X’s like marking em out instead of #’s. I also can’t give any love ‘cause everyone is dead or I can do this to your house.” Apart from the Gnostic title, the work consists of twelve large knives, installed, literally, by jamming them point in to the sheetrock in a circular pattern. It’s a bit like Psycho meets Fatal Attraction as an entre to a new loft, sort of adding a Christian Bale/American Psycho overtone. Fantastic.

Other amazing works include both Katrin Sigurdottir’s Untitled KS-09, an amazing sculptural installation on the floor, which shows something like an unfolding bed covered in grass. It’s described as modeling materials, dimensions variable, and at less than the size of a suitcase its location made me almost apoplectic as I knew the wine would flow.

More challenging was Renato Garza Cervera’s Of Contemporary Geniune Beast VI, which basically shows a skinned Mexican gang member made from cast polyester, with, for those who don’t “have” contemporary cultural references, is covered in MS, or the name of a feared latino gang. Both intriguing and horrifying at precisely the same moment, the work stands as a trope and a trophy for many of the national debates taking place today.

Upstairs, viewers encounter two fantastic video works, including the shapeshifting Fascia, by Pia Lindman, in which a woman’s face, seen in close-up, fragments and oscillates as she speaks. Shown flat on a monitor, it seems like a cross between the psychosurgery of Orlan and the opening scene from Nip/Tuck, where you can almost hear Sean and Christian asking, “Tell me what it is you don’t like about yourself.”

Other highlights include Derek Cracco’s Madonna Whore, and Hank Willis Thomas’ brooding and dark Jennifer Yazon.

As a curatorial premise, PDA: Public Displays of Affection/Affliction may be too open and too closed at precisely the same moment. But the show takes a stand on the myriad aspects of life that challenge our expectations of comfort, show or suggest our dreams and desires, and, while walking through the door, maybe even scare us a little.

Contemporary art is risky business, and Tandem has taken a valuable risk again. The show will be open by appointment for the remainder of its duration. Go ahead, make the call.

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