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Black and White at Nina Freudenheim Gallery

Untitled work by Kathryn Lynch.
Connector plan by Jill Weber.

Nina Freudenheim Gallery

Writer Truman Capote’s signature event, the Black and White Ball, held in the Plaza Hotel in New York City on November 28, 1966, was both a flagrantly elegant and an awkwardly polarizing affair, with no middle range of tempering gray in a checkerboard of high-haired, high-contrast livery coupled with mandatory masked faces obviating the 540 identities on the high-wattage guest list. This was a turning point of the 1960s, when the civil rights movement, women’s liberation, and the burgeoning weight of the Vietnam War, not to mention the coming of age of 70 million teenagers eager for revolution, any revolution, created an atmosphere of discontent and instability.

In the current exhibition at Nina Freudenheim’s Gallery, 14 artists mount a display of graphically tense and tickling works in a variety of structures and textures. Peter Stephens contributed four pieces in ink and graphite titled with impenetrably German significance, possibly having to do with the Nobel-Prize-winning chemist Manfred Eigen but also, in the prefix “eigen,” having to do with eigen values, and the derivatives of linear transformation in calculus. Melissa Myer’s work continues the clinical theme with cropped mechanic forms that look like white icing arrangements of Klee-inspired parts assembly diagrams. Utilitarian devices from William DuBois’s ink-jet print BedPan series hold forth in a vertical mode uncharacteristic of such equipment’s actual position in use. Marcel Duchamp’s antecedent readymade, a porcelain urinal signed “R. Mutt,” was all the more engaging for having not been changed in orientation to its function.

Austere, but surely the most soulful influence on the exhibition, is John Coplan’s Interlocking Fingers, a 47-by-38-inch enlargement of the braiding of life-worn digits. Coplan’s works in self-portrait, frank studies of the naked, aging body, are grace notes of analysis, from the base of his foot to the wrinkles of his hands.

Richard Fleischner’s process-oriented gouaches on paper recreate the worn surfaces of weaving, or dense thatch recreating the scratched and pitted layers of cropped commonplace material. A black cross recalls the Russian Suprematist painter Kasimir Malevich, another precursor to the present interest in the glorification of quotidian materials, products, and processes. Amanda Means’s Water Glass 1,2,3, 2011 is an enlarged image in gelatin silver print of an axial arrangement of ordinary hydration vessels in chilled isolation. David Mann’s Traceries presents an on-canvas depiction of a delicate frissonating matrix, recalling the dance-like coupling of nematodes.

Kathryn Lynch punctuates the insularities of painstakingly finessed, clinically observed artworks with a large pair of oil-on-paper paintings, insouciantly brushed in a stylized cartoon of dogs. Charming especially in this context, coming or going. Katherine Sehr’s by now signature, cloistered, intersecting forms move to greater advantage by becoming architectural. The astringency of her art is immediately referenced as built environmental elements:obscure, anonymous, like a vision of New York in midtown in the 1960s.

Kasia Keeley subtly addresses environmental issues in a handmade paper piece in Japanese knotweed entitled Top Five Most Invasive Species Series, pressing her concern for the self-explanatory threat to native vegetation.

Withal, the era of Capote’s cotillion 45 years ago seems almost naively quaint. The notion that the policy-makers and legislators of the United States of America, a sovereign nation state, had any choice but to enfranchise minorities, emancipate gender inequalities, and leave foreign countries to their inherent destinies now seems arbitrary and arrogant. In the summer, fall, winter, spring of our perennial discontent, citizens face withering expectations that causes for social justice or the conduct of peaceable nations will ever be so clearly black and white. Beyond an immediate aesthetic refuge, the Freudenheim show for many of those boomer teenagers may bring back their own graying memories of right and wrong.

j. tim raymond

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