Visually Sound at LOT Louisville
Is Virtually Flawless

by Louis Zoellar Bickett, Lexington, KY

Visually Sound—the group show at LOT Louisville is curated by the artist and independent curator Aaron Michael Skolnick. For his show he chose five artists from the roster of the renowned RARE Gallery, NYC. Skolnick has stated “I wanted a variety of disciplines for the show, and I wanted that variety to be a visually powerful and psychologically challenging experience for the viewer.”  Skolnick is also curating a separate show for RARE in their Chelsea gallery, West 27th, NYC—it opens on Tuesday night, June 25. These two shows mark Skolnick’s national curatorial debut.

independent curator Aaron Michael Skolnick

A brief word about LOT Louisville. It is the brain-child of the architect, professor and art collector Drura Parrish. LOT (Land of Tomorrow) Louisville, with a sister venue LOT Lexington works two ways: it is a commercial gallery in that the work is often for sale, but it is also very much a teaching institution in that many of the programs and installations are geared towards bringing work to the area that can’t readily be seen here. Then there are the shows. Cutting edge DJ’s, rappers and parties that look like an amalgam of Suddenly Last Summer, Beach Party Bingo and a performance of Björk at the McCarren Park Pool.  The morning I viewed the show, light streamed through the arched window illuminating the gallery perfectly, as if an enormous photographic reflecting umbrella was in place creating the pleasing atmosphere, facilitating a very enjoyable viewing experience. The gallery reminded me of the ones in Soho in the 80’s. A snow white room of imposing proportions, the grey concrete floor catching the sun, the arched windows, the Belle Epoch architectural details reminded me of palace and church—a perfect room to view good art. A perfect room elevated to the realm of the sublime by Skolnick’s choices: Daphne Arthur, Johnston Foster, Dionisios Fragias, Nathan Ritterpusch, and Jimmy Joe Roche, all chosen by Skolnick from the roster of the renown RARE, NYC. They are a fantastic and believable blend making this group show, that most difficult of beast to tame, a virtually flawless one. The show works visually and intellectually. It is thoroughly thought out, from content, to technique (no minimalism here), to installation, every piece is like a major jewel in an important crown.

Group shows are difficult to keep even and connected. However, there are no fights here among the work of the five. Though the work that composes Visually Sound is technically and philosophically diverse, one is hit squarely in the face—these five artists get it. They know where they came from. They know where they are. They know where they are going.

As I entered the room I first saw Johnston Foster’s Islands of Time, a five foot-tall hour glass with an interior that looks like a recycled eco system made from plastic, wire, carpet, foam, and beads—a garden of cacti, gravel and sand—a reconstituted memento mori that at first engages, but also slightly repels. An hourglass is essentially a clock. When looking at one that is about 3” shorter than Napoleon one can only think of time and history first—THESE ARE THE DAYS OF OUR LIVES! And, with time, there is, its passage. Resting among the glass spheres of each section of the hourglass, perched among the thorny constructions, the fantastic flora of some other world, is a skeleton in each globe. Arms stretched out, proclaiming, “This is my earthly domain of death.” Foster has given us another world, and another way of looking at the one we live in, and he does it with great life. His Islands of Time would be a very easy work to live with. Here in this show, it certainly holds its own.

Moving from Foster’s work, the only one not on a wall, to the other works, was an easy counterclockwise decision. To one’s left was a diptych arrangement by Jimmy Joe Roche. Greater Black Astral Dripper and High Planes Meta Dripper, both in precision-cut aluminum—are mounted to project from the wall in harmonious unison. They have intricate, precise laser cut-out designs. The surface of the works are finished with acrylic paint and digital printing. They have a feel of the hybrid—are they sculptures that have been painted or are they paintings that have a dimensional, sculptural quality? I could not help at first but to think of Stella’s later work—the Moby Dick series—perhaps, only because Stella’s work is painted aluminum as well. But it was a fleeting thought. Roche’s work here at LOT Louisville, consuming the whole left wall of the gallery are highly original Rorschach inkblot-like works that create a prismatic atmosphere of the ethereal, like giant (they are each 120” x 108” x 10”) pieces of Dutch lace-work, or architectural remnants, something that has remained behind, left and retained for preservation. I felt “are they moving” or “am I”. You could easily get lost in this work while contemplating it. The lush cutouts. The grand surface designs. The way the natural light plays off of them. The almost toy-like quality of the works like gigantic, technological tattoos from some unknown source. I thought, “what is not to like about Roche’s work?”

Nathan Ritterpusch, Daphne Arthur, and Dionisios Fragias round out this wonderful room with no minor notes, solidifying and validating LOT Louisville’s reputation as one of the most important exhibit venues in the region.

Ritterpusch’s three works are each oil paintings on canvas. If it is true what Shaw said as a witness at an obscenity trial, that “sex and death are the only fitting subjects for adults,” then Ritterpusch’s work is certainly fitting for us.

As I moved around the room the first painting I encountered was The Kite Flyer, a close-up of an Adonis in Eric Estrada shades, head thrown back, his mouth agape. Has he just ejaculated or is he in pain? The glimpse of nature behind him is a fancy that grounds him to his ecstasy but does not explain it or offer more answers. He is a modern rendition of Teresa of Avila mouthing out a whisper “Jesus take me.” It is a most competently painted work, almost photographic, with a slight blur, a hint of fog, and a narrow depth of field. This handsome man is not, flying a kite. The smallest of the Ritterpusch canvases in the show, Old Enough to Be My Mother #64 (14” x 12”), is a close-up head shot of a blonde woman, an Angie Dickinson-type model, her red lips perched and puckered, her blurred features (a consistent technique of the three paintings in this show) take you in and win you over. Surely she is ready to felate some off-scene character. The third Ritterpusch work in the show Nude with Shapes (24” x 30”), is sexual energy and tension personified. The red lips (again the red lips), head at a thrown back angle, the eyes and nose obliterated by rose colored shapes creating a feeling that Ritterpusch has censored his own work—there is something about the story he can’t tell. One can barely make out the act of cunnilingus. The head of the performer, as with the eyes of the recipient are erased with paint. The gender of the head in the vaginal zone is impossible to discern for sure—but they are blond. A lovely painting indeed. Ritterpusch is a major talent.

Daphne Arthur’s three works in the show, smoke on paper, employ an interesting technique. Her drawings remind one of tableaux vivants, or stage-like pieces that convey the unmistakable feeling of entering a room. Arthur has made her work teem with narrative and life. She is telling a complex story, yet shrouding the narrative in a complicated set of visual techniques. With the drawing Marks of Dust That Wander, specks of gold leaf nearly float off the paper and rest on the eye, making the work both precious and ominous, like a too fattening piece of cake asking to be eaten. Even without knowing the medium, one still senses the smoky and cloudy atmosphere these works possess. Shadows, the faint hint of plants, foliage and architecture all set the scene. A figure, round breast, flowing gossamer gown, the trunk of a tree, a smoky, secret garden emerge captivating and catapulting us to another culture (perhaps the Pacific Rim). Her work is a travelogue of her imagination and precise story telling. In viewing Arthur’s work, we are not here, we are there.

Dionisios Fragias’ work is a good candidate to be anyone’s personal favorite in the show. The three works in the LOT Louisville show are a gallery unto their selves. The works, oil on cut aluminum, like Roche’s, project from the wall. Originality, being a strong foundation for all five of the artists in this show, is certainly evident in the work of Fragias’. With Gem (26” x 13”), aluminum cut in the shape of an oversized razor blade is article not to be played with and looks like a giant toy or a turn-of-the century advertising sign that just happens to be a painting. It is a very painterly paining. With a disturbing storm descending upon the city, a skyline of buildings, a view that reminds me of a train ride—the J from Williamsburg to LES—the abandoned Dominoe Sugar factory, a sprawling acre upon acre of urban decay on the East River awaiting NYC’s brand of urban gentrification perched upon a razor’s edge. In Search, the shape of the aluminum is of a ship that sails towards Gem. The ship sails to where? In Game, the shape is of a just shot-rabbit with a superimposed Mallard duck painted on the surface. The tiny figures expertly painted with economy, the craggy coast in the foreground, the sea splashing against rocks, steam rising, is this a game, or a contest? The arms of the small figures rise, they see something: The sky, or God, or some unseen, unknown political force? What do they point out? Small barns dot the horizon of this work. They are broken by a column of mist, what looks like a geyser disrupting the ‘Game’ in progress. The geyser is in the middle of the work and divides the action so carefully portrayed. A cerulean sky shows no sign of storm—but what is the game? Killing? Shooting a furry bunny? I’m not sure what the game is, but the work is so pleasing that Fragias is batting 300.

Visually Sound, is remarkable in its intellectual alacrity. It makes one think. The artists represented here were certainly thinking when they made the work. You want to consume and eat up this show, savoring it like a fine meal—a visual delight. It will consume you as well.


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