Young at Art 

Three shows feature strong talent.

Photographer Ian Lemmonds' curating skills are as visionary and playful as his signature artwork in which white ponies vanish into sunlight and minuscule humans stand in awe of luminous goldfish. Lemmonds has put together "The Girls Club," an L Ross Gallery exhibition that uses the international signage for women's restrooms as its logo. This is just the right touch of whimsy and insight to describe five young women, who, like Virginia Woolf, have created private spaces in which to generate art straight from the gut.

Our Tiny Graces by Emily Walls consists of an 18-by-20 hand-knit afghan, two oversized chairs built by the artist, and an invitation to climb on and under the installation. The work takes us back to the moment we pulled a blanket off our beds, draped it over chairs much taller than ourselves, and crawled into a private space to enjoy our first work of art.

A young man lies on a pale-blue slab in Pixy Liao's untitled C-print. A shaft of light hovering above his body creates pitch-black shadows and powerful metaphors regarding life's brevity and the hope for transcendence. The man is lying on an air-hockey table, and that long glint of light comes from a fluorescent bulb. Perhaps he's been injured in a poolroom brawl. Perhaps he's sleeping in a fraternity game room after too much study or too much beer. Whatever the particulars, Liao's perceptually challenging, richly symbolic work reminds us of life's pathos, its pleasure, and its pain.

In Women on Washington, Niki Johnson delicately and accurately sketches the portraits of the American presidents' wives on small pieces of vellum. Each sketch is placed on top of George Washington's face on the one-dollar bill. The bills (all 39 of them) are relief-mounted on the wall in the shape of a pyramid. Here are just a few of the questions this beautifully executed, conceptually complex artwork asks: On what foundation do we build our homes, ourselves, our country? With greenbacks? With the ideals of early statesmen (and stateswomen)? With trickle-down economics? With the labor of women who often earn substantially less than men?

Other notable works in the show include Gate 3, a breakthrough painting in which Lauren Hamlett reaches a subtle, original level of abstraction, and Rebeka Laurenzi's soft, porous, surprisingly beautiful sculpture made out of thousands of strips of corrugated paper.

click to enlarge The Stale Calm of Utopia by Marcus Kenney at David Lusk
  • The Stale Calm of Utopia by Marcus Kenney at David Lusk

L Ross Gallery, through June 30th

Four young artists in David Lusk's current show, "Crowded," have also mounted original, thought-provoking work.

From a distance, Mike Force's work is striking and lyrical. Up close, his paintings tell a dark story. The American flag has become limp noodles that swarm like snakes through many of his works. Impastos of burgundy are human hearts that roast on open spits and spew noxious fumes from truncated arteries like factory smoke stacks. This artist's tattered flags and hearts serve as graphic reminders for ways overzealous patriotism and unchecked corporate interest can bend and bloody democratic ideals and compassion beyond recognition.

click to enlarge An untitled C-print by Pixy Liao on view at L Ross Gallery.
  • An untitled C-print by Pixy Liao on view at L Ross Gallery.

Pale-blue rectangles that narrow at the top of Shawn Mathews' tall, slick painting Therapy bring to mind high-rise apartments, multiple arteries of freeways, and shipping lanes. Beneath thick layers of resin, Mathews' scumbled brown background conjures up faces and monuments carved into now crumbling stone. Modernity, backdropped by a palimpsest of ancient forms, suggests no matter how high or technologically advanced we build our structures and infrastructures, they too shall crumble.

In some of the most interesting syntheses of art and space we've seen this year, Cordy Ryman screws, stacks, and Velcros enameled slats of wood into the corners of David Lusk Gallery to create floor-to-ceiling installations.

Marcus Kenney explores the American psyche with collages of memorabilia, brand-name labels, vintage wallpaper, and children's book illustrations that often resemble the Dick/Jane/Sally characters from mid-century elementary school primers. Weaned on the prosperity of the '50s and the psychedelia of the '60s, Kenney's cutouts float over devastated landscapes, taunt physically disabled youngsters, and smoke cigarettes — unaware of the harm they cause — still plump, still beautiful, still 7 years old.

At David Lusk Gallery, through June 28th

Memphis painter Meikle Gardner moved to Manhattan two years ago. This month, he fills his "New York/New Work" exhibition at Perry Nicole with 30 saturate, sensual, and original works of art. Gone are the slathered-on heads and complex gridwork. Gardner's gestures have become a satisfying blend of calligraphy, geometry, and fertility icon. Spermatozoan shapes spread out into luminous color fields in Morphogenesis. Languid brushstrokes weave in and out of blue-black folds softly lit with silver-white wisps of paint in Ancient Fold. A silver-blue background overlaid with opalescent green sinew in Prattle-Head is punctuated with yellow and topped off with blue calligraphy outlined in red. This tremendously complex, crisp, never overworked painting reads like synapses of a supercharged mind in a supercharged city where possibility is endless.

At Perry Nicole Fine Art, through June 30th

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