It's Hip to Be Serious 

Self-expression survives at John F. Kennedy University.

Anything goes in the promiscuous mosh pit of postmodern conceptual art, so style sometimes reveals more about professional ambition and career strategy than about personal experience imaginatively transformed. The post-Warholian artist becomes the art, while the art, decoupled from reality, becomes entertainment: art of the media, by the media, and for the media. Artists' ancient dream of life and art intertwined, integrated, and accessible to all — Art Universal and Triumphant — may indeed come to pass in the digital age, but at the price of meaninglessness?

Perhaps not. The Bay Area has a longtime tradition of individualism that has thrived far from the centers of power. The countercultural alternative, in my opinion, remains a viable wellspring of humanism in an increasingly abstract technological culture. Can conceptualism be given a human face — infused with physicality, emotion, and humanity? A current faculty show at the East Bay's John F. Kennedy University, featuring filmmakers Robbyn Alexander, Thomas Becker, and Erica Chong Shuch, painters/draftsmen Michael Grady, Glenn Hirsch, and Mark Levy, and sculptors Debra Koppman and Margaret Lindsay, along with lyrical poems by John Fox, demonstrates that modernist individualism is alive and well, evolving and available.

Alexander's film, "Fear of Falling," employs found 16mm film depicting parachutists, dancers, and swimmers that she has painted with dot-and-squiggle flak patterns; dreamlike music enhances the rapt lyricism. Becker's video "A Poem to be Read into a Flashlight..." employs montage with digital effects to dramatize the poem that inspired it, while Chong Shuch's "To Hellen Bach" depicts a dance/duel between two women that suggests Cocteau, Barney, and MTV — while featuring Bach, among others, on its soundtrack. Grady's acrylic/ink paintings on paper depict what appear to be mountains glimpsed through mist and fog, combining spiritualized Western abstraction and Eastern landscape, while Hirsch's mixed-media collage paintings derive from Mesoamerican archaeology and the invented glyphs of painters like Rothko and Gottlieb in the 1940s to depict moody, radiant fields of energy populated by altars, steles, and boats covered with magical inscriptions. Levy makes expressionist oil pastel portraits of Verlaine, Beckett, et al. Koppman exhibits a trio of serpentine sculptures made from disks of foam that have been painted with magic symbols. Lindsay's wall hangings stand midway between painting and sculpture: composed of strips of painted canvas hanging from branches like scrolls, they both contain pictorial space (albeit abstract and nearly monochromatic) and assert themselves as constructions and artifacts. Reception on Saturday, March 7 at 5 p.m. Exhibit runs through March 18 at JFKU's Arts & Consciousness Gallery (2956 San Pablo Ave., Berkeley). or 510-649-0499.


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