Art: Wednesday, October 29, 2003
The Grid: Unlocked
Thru Nov 9 at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center, 1300 Gendy St, FW. 817-738-1938. Thru Nov 7 at Four Walls @ Displays Unlimited Inc., 830 N Commerce St, FW. 817-332-7990.
The Fifth Dimension

Grazing in the past is a gas, baby, can you dig it? Janet Tyson sets artists down on “the grid.”


Grids are hip. They’re a big part of the cultural consciousness — from The Matrix to those power grids our good pals above the Mason-Dixon recently learned way too much about. A clean, neat, scientific-looking, grid-related artwork likely makes us think about how emotion and instinct still have yet to completely obscure logic and reason, in aesthetics or in real life: We may walk around our big white house, with our warped personal convictions in place of political ideologies, but deep down inside we know our God Complex is eventually gonna win us a date with Agent Smith. (You hear that, Mr. Bush? The sound of people hitting those polling booths is the sound of ... inevitability.) A scientific- or grid-related exhibit is totally apropos of the moment.

Enter: Four Walls @ Displays Unlimited Inc. and the Fort Worth Community Arts Center. In a first-time collaboration, the two galleries are hosting The Grid: Unlocked, a group show of variations on the grid theme. Curated by Janet Tyson, The Grid manages to be both supremely minimalist and good-natured — an achievement, considering how difficult it’s always been to articulate humanity through relatively content-less form. The Grid isn’t quite groundbreaking, but it’s probably the closest Fort Worth’s been to “cutting edge” in a while. And, of course, by “cutting edge” we mean “retro.” And by “retro” we mean “stuff from your parents’ attics.”

The desire, to “get with” the Machine Age and not so much suppress the soul as to emphasize the rational mind, is one that burned in a lot of modernes, from Mondrian to Reinhart. They kept pathos off the canvas by taking a mechanical, almost soulless approach to image-making. The result was typically a sylvan yet intoxicating piece of inhumanity (Reinhart’s “Red Painting” comes to mind). A brutal design conceit like the grid was primarily what these artists used to whip emotion and instinct into geometric shape. Their strokes have been resonating for decades.

Take a look at one of Patrick Kelly’s neo-minimalist, color-field-esque paintings at the Arts Center. “Red Cross” is exactly that — a medium-sized, square, red-painted canvas on which thin lines of white paint create the outline of two crossed pieces of wood. Look kinda familiar? Try “Black Cross” by Russian suprematist Kasimir Malevich (1878-1935). His painting’s a thick black cross on a square white canvas. (You whippersnappers might also be thinking of “Piss Christ.” It, too, resembles “Red Cross,” naturally.) But that’s the beauty of this postmodern age: Ain’t nothing wrong with re-emphasizing a point, even — especially — if that point was made, like, 70 years ago. (People have very short memories.) “Red Cross,” essentially a magical logo, truly asserts itself as if “Black Cross” had never happened.

It could be 1960 when you walk into either Four Walls or the Community Arts Center — the walls are dripping with all those big ideas about minimalism/post-minimalism/neo-minimalism, Op Art, and even outsider art. Whether this is good or bad is just too weighty a question to contemplate in this story. Just remember: This is the age of “anything goes” — and “goes” is what a lot of stuff here does.

Susie Rosmarin’s patterned etudes at the Arts Center won’t transport you anywhere but to a cool, comfy place where you’ll be free to ponder the magic of a multi-dimensional universe. (Think Vasarely sans the psychedelic colors and warped perspectives.) The patterns in her grids are so dense and so mechanically rendered, and they result in so much depth of field, that they almost invite you to stick your hand through them. Rosmarin’s palette is black/navy blue, white, and shades of gray, delivered with a mechanical, flawless brush. The message here is that depth is as visually and intellectually stimulating — and as aesthetically legitimate — as the flattest de Kooning. And the post-script, of course, says that anything a machine can do, an artist can do better.

In a certain twist on the inherent masculinity of the essentially angular grid, Sedrick Huckaby’s “A Love Supreme” (Arts Center) is at once outside the theme and of it completely. A wall-sized canvas that actually spills over to adjacent walls, this impressive trompe l’oeil depicts a dozen or so patterned quilts hanging from the top of the frame and spilling into one another. The piece is effective in the way of good conceptual art: It raises more questions than it answers. Formally, the wonderful, old-world patterns and the colors — burgundies, pinks, pewters, greens, golds — are simply breathtaking to behold. Maybe it’s just me, but I never realized how elegant and beautiful bedding could be. “A Love Supreme” was a real, a-hem, eye-opener.

John Pomara’s and Vincent Falsetta’s smear-ish paintings are pretty similar to each other. Both really stretch the grid theme to its boundaries. Pomara’s “Freight-Line” series (Four Walls) — four largish, dark, oil-on-aluminum works, arranged in a perfect horizontal line — speaks to the grid without really looking it in the eye. A typical piece in this mercurial series finds a black monochromatic canvas that’s busy in the middle with variously sized and placed horizontal strokes of royal blues and whites. The obvious subject is a passenger train whistling by in the night. Not too subtle and not too retro, but not too corny, either.

Falsetta’s works (Arts Center) also strenuously emphasize movement and depth, without using typical Op Art tricks, like fractal organization and tessellation. The major differences between Pomara’s work and Falsetta’s are twofold: First, whereas Pomara attempts to elucidate the horizontal line, Falsetta wants to take you higher, one vertical stroke after the other. And whereas Pomara hints at the darkness of the machine age, Falsetta is mixing black and white with heavy doses of pink to lift your mood a little. Both artists keep their statements short and sweet: The essence of painting isn’t necessarily flatness. Depth matters, too.

The Grid is an of-the-moment exhibit that’s hot but not without its misses and deeply inside-baseball-y, academic allusions (i.e., Elizabeth McBride’s “Inversions,” at Four Walls, comes from the same place where Rauschenberg found his X-ray prints). The saving grace is that even the misses aren’t really that far off. They’re in the same ball field, in theory, on canvas, and in every dimension.

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