Third Party Gallery opened its first exhibition with a group show (the curator isn’t listed, but I assume it was Wyatt Niehaus, one of the co-founders) called Reductio ad Absurdum. According to the press release, the curator claims that its artists have “composed a dialogue between their work and a preexisting ideology, convention or concept that they feel at odds with. The exhibited work acts as an absurd analogy intended to show the perceived error of these preexisting concepts that we find embedded in contemporary culture.” This statement confused me, despite the recognizeability of some of the jargon. Reductio ad Absurdum is traditionally a rhetorical device for challenging argumentation, and the idea of curating a show in which artists attempt to do this in their work is certainly ambitious. Whether the resulting works serve as “analogies” remains unclear.

Entering the exhibition, I was immediately greeted by the prominently placed, politically-charged work of Aay Preston-Myint. A black & white banner of US Representative John Boehner hung on the ceiling in the center of the room, as if looking directly upon entering viewers. The words “IT GETS WORSE,” printed in orange lettering, leap out as well. A smaller version of the poster appears on the left wall on a ledge with three other images–an external prison wall, a couple of police in riot gear, and a religious fanatic holding ominous signs. All have the phrase “IT GETS WORSE” prominently featured on them. They are also mass-produced copies, with the idea that visitors can take the posters and put them up elsewhere. The art reference is to Barbara Kruger, but I was unclear of how these fit into the R.A.A. theme.

Equally ideologically blatant were two canvases by John Knight on the wall opposite Preston-Myint’s posters. One features a two-toned large pink Nazi swastika, while the other the German word “weltschmerz” broken into three lines. A swastika is a shocking, racist symbol and not to be used lightly; no doubt this shock effect was part of the intention of the artist. Yet, I refused to be shocked, as it seemed too obvious. Presumably the pink color is meant to reflect the persecution of homosexuals. On the other hand, “Weltschmerz,” meaning “world-weariness,” refers to sorrow from the inability to realize one’s ideals in the face of reality. I suppose that one is expected to read the canvases left to right; hence, one feels “world-weariness” in the face of repeated, relentless, ceaseless ideological persecution. This also did not seem clearly to fit into the R.A.A. theme, unless their titles allowed this: Bob Dylan 1 and Bob Dylan 2 (2011). Presumably the work refers to the melancholy of the artist and his political activity; possibly, the artist proposes a transcendent cultural weariness because of the repetitiveness of such representations over the past one and a half centuries.

I mention these two artists first simply because their work used an in-your-face approach. They eclipsed, for example, Haley Silverman’s print called Life-raft (2009); having seen Preston-Myint’s prints, I had assumed, wrongly, that this was also some spin-off of his work, since they were placed near his prints.

The other artworks drew me in more closely. On the back wall was a video website projection called I am Google (2011) by Dina Kelberman. It depicted a screen of thumbnail images. As one scrolled down the images with the interactive mouse, new thumbnails continuously appeared with thematic and formal connections amongst them. For example, a series appeared of surveillance-like aerial views of stadiums, all cropped in a similar way; subsequently, thumbnails appeared of video links following the same method; this continued for some time. It was an unusual way to take the Google search function and play with it. I thought that some algorithm had been programmed into the browser. I pondered how this functioned for a while, until one of the show’s attendants explained to me that the thumbnails were all manually entered by the artist (the latest ones in real-time at some other location). Unfortunately, a gallery visitor clicked on an image (or something similar) in which the hypnotic thumbnail progressions were replaced by a single-image slideshow. The same attendant struggled with the technology to get it back to the artist’s intended format. This is an inevitable result of technological installations; they don’t always work. Yet the break somehow fit in with the show’s narrative.

Similarly. the work of artist Jacob Riddle played with dysfunction and repetitive play. His sculpture entitled .jpg (2011) featured an old vinyl record player and a printer. The record player was stuck on the same sound/groove, as frequently happens when one plays old records (for those with the memory of such things). The printer, also older (and, though made more recently, is also now considered “vintage”), printed the same jumbled mess of overlapping characters. The repetitive line implied that the printer was broken, but it still faithfully printed line after line. Its reams of paper piled up on a special ledge attached to the pedestal. The sound of its printing–a noticeably pitched, slightly screeching sound–resounded throughout the gallery space. The play on words, I suppose, is “broken record” and its attendant cultural metaphors. Perhaps the ideology under challenge was faith in technology. One could argue that it critiqued the work on the back wall, at least in the sense for me of my experience of having difficulty working the video display.

My favorite, though, was Alexis Stahl’s Mana Jar (2011). It featured two open black boxes alongside their covers. On the inside of the box covers were images and terms; one was an outline of a CD cover with the writing “Internet Vol. 1”. The accompanying box featured a mini-amphitheater construction of stair-like forms that descended onto a small stage. There, some round object appeared, perhaps a device that operates CD’s invisibly inside a host device. The backside of the other box revealed a delicate outline of what appeared to be a cooking pot in blue tones; the box itself had only an indentation in its base. The small scale of her work, their monotone colors and the dark space of the box all drew me into their intimacy. I was able more easily to ignore John Boehner and the pink swastika, and even find the contemplation of the box-meanings enjoyable (a good White House gift?). The press release states that Stahl “creates works that examine what is unknowingly assumed, overlooked, or accomplished by the act of collecting objects or the act of placing objects in a collection. The works highlight the moments where the narrative of a collection enters the realm of imagination, fiction, and memory.” Certainly the box form and the “label” effect of the underside of the cover gave this feeling, and the objects engaged my imagination as I wondered about their meanings.

It may have been too much to expect that artists would be able to translate a logical argument into an art form. The resulting work would simply become too didactic and hence easily dismissable. I found that the artists in this show opted to isolate aspects of the curator’s statement, such as ideological confrontation (Preston-Myint and Knight) or the use of repetitiveness, as if dialectic can be symbolized by recurrence (Kelberman and Riddle). The net effect of all these approaches seemed to fulfill, at least somewhat, the curatorial intentions. Perhaps the curatorial concept is more interesting than the execution of it than the artists in the show. Perhaps ideologies are more difficult to visualize than they used to be, because of the plethora of images with which we are constantly bombarded.

– A.C. Frabetti

Reductio ad Absurdum at the Third Party Gallery, 2159 Central Ave., Cincinnati, OH 45214. Hours Saturdays from 12-4, or by appointment. Through September 24.

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