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In the White Room

"Deserted Rooms" by Kristina Siegel and Jorg Schnier
"Bruise" (acrylic, 2014) by Alicia Malik

Paintings and a new installation on display at Buffalo Arts Studio

Lots of mortality imagery in the current Buffalo Arts Studio exhibit, featuring an installation by the artist team of Kristina Siegel and Jörg Schnier, and paintings by Alicia Malik.

The installation is called Deserted Rooms and consists of a gallery space and accoutrements in severe white to off-white. White plaster walls on three sides, the fourth wall a kind of diaphanous white scrim curtain with doorway cutouts, and mid-room two garments or outfits, one female, the other ostensibly male, constructed of the same or similar white gauzy fabric, hanging on white hangers, suspended from the ceiling, the female garment a kind of credible nightdress of simple design, the less credible—in such flimsy material and delicate construction—male outfit, a sort of suit jacket and pants. One other suspended item, a representation of a window, in similar see-through fabric, of similar sewn manufacture. And as room décor, on the plaster walls, a half dozen or so photographs of modernistic architecture fragments as abstract art—wall and ceiling planes and angles of intersection, and what looks like the railing of a pristine modern staircase or balcony—again in whites and off-whites. Puritan modern.

While in the slight air current throughout the gallery from ceiling fans, the hanging items sway gently back and forth, to and fro, ghostly animating the installation. The work as a whole is reminiscent of a famous painting by Andrew Wyeth—the centerpiece painting of an Andrew Wyeth exhibit now at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.—of an open window looking out onto a farm field crossed by tire tracks, a line of dark woods on a rise in the distance, and most prominently in the picture, filmy delicate lace curtains blown inward, into the room, on a gust of breeze through the window. The painting is called “Wind from the Sea,” and it is also a piece about mortality, I think. About the presence of what’s no longer present.

Whereas the paintings by Alicia Malik are reminiscent of nothing I know of. Each painting presents a sole subject matter single dead insect—flying or crawling variety, housefly, honey bee, mayfly, or beetle—depicted relatively small on a relatively large canvas, the remainder of the canvas offering a subdued painterly background to the focal matter dead bug.

What to make of this work? It’s about death, of course, of insects, but also of humans, surely, because we—artist and audience alike—are humans, and invariably self-referential. So about likenesses and possible differences between the insect mortality situation and our own. Likenesses such as the complete and inexorable finality of demise. Differences such as that humans have traditionally had recourse to palliatives—real or imagined—to the inexorable finality. Religious beliefs about continuance in some way. Secular schemes of continuance via the faculty of memory somehow. The idea of legacy.

But also just about insects, living or dead. The pictorial style is realistic, though not field guide realistic. But we get to glimpse—and in a small way appreciate—the incredible fragility and complexity of the insect mechanism. The wing of a housefly, constructed like a cathedral stained glass window, thinning to translucence in light islands amid dark support structure ridges, like the lead bead network around the stained glass in the window.

And also just about painting. The artist Robert Bechtle painted suburban tract houses, with attached garage, and late model Detroit car in the driveway. That is, painted pictures of tract houses, with attached garage, and car in the driveway. Remarkably uninteresting subject matter, it seemed to some observers. Asked why he chose such subject matter, he responded that “the subject of painting is painting,” only that, to be a painter, “you need to find something to paint.”

The Alicia Malik and Kristina Siegel and Jörg Schnier exhibit continues through September 13, with extended hours on Fri (8/22) until 8pm.

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