We've seen small, abstract sculptures constructed of found materials before - from Richard Tuttle's thoughtfully lumpen ones to Bill Walton's sublime, carefully crafted ones - and whose used parts from our polyglot American past give them an ineffable poignancy, like a song whose words we've forgotten. Ted Larsen's recent metal sculptures and assemblages at Schmidt Dean Gallery bring a little something different to the table.
They're the Johnny Mercer lyrics of this genre, you might say, born of a naturally generous low-key wit and charm that is often alien to the art world. Even when his forms are boxlike (and they frequently are), they don't give a vibe of difficult, reserved, or restrained.
A good part of the allure of Larsen's work comes from its colors and patinas. Larsen salvages his painted scrap metal from cars, buildings, and industrial equipment, cuts it into large sections on site, and then into smaller pieces in his studio. The evidence of the past lives of these materials is easy to detect in their painted, slightly distressed surfaces - some peeling here, crackling there, yellowing at the edges - and many of these scraps' paint colors, such as a 1950s aqua, openly declare their automobile and refrigerator roots.
At the same time, Larsen's sculptures and his two-dimensional assemblages, constructed from metal triangles of such vintage familiars as soft-yellow ochre, avocado green, and ivory white, transcend their '50s-to-'70s car/kitchen associations and simultaneously hark back to Early American quilts and gameboards and look forward to contemporary abstract painting.
The shapes and forms in his new pieces are diverse, but their common scale mitigates these differences. His quiltlike, two-dimensional assemblages are the easiest, most immediately appealing works in his show, while his sculptures - such as Joined Box Structure or Delicate Wall Drawing Construction, which suggest contained continuums - mark a stretch and a risk.
The mysteriously beautiful, cerebral, rather majestic video installations that got so much real estate in large museum surveys of the 1990s may soon be a thing of the past. At least, that's the impression given by the works of the 11 video artists in "Hurts So Good," an exhibition curated by Jenny Drumgoole and Jennie Thwing for the Rowan University Art Gallery. Most of these videos are less than 10 minutes long and displayed on small monitors, and their stylistic forebears are home movies, cult feature and documentary films, pop-music videos, and confessional TV shows and ads. They're more YouTube than high art.
Unsurprisingly, 22-year-old YouTube performer Chris Crocker's four over-the-top monologues are the stars of this show. In The Secret (2007), Crocker (of Leave Britney Alone fame) transforms himself into a middle-aged woman who believes the world was discovered 40 years ago by George Washington, Norah Jones, and Sissy Spacek. As the Dolly Partonlike "female" with the curiously ghettoish accent in Makeup is my Friend! (2008), Crocker covers his lips in gobs of dripping lipstick while thanking Max Factor and his parents from the bottom of his expletive-expletive heart.
There are obvious similarities between Crocker's characters and those of video artist Ryan Trecartin (who is not in this show) and his fellow performers - both affect hip-hop speech in characterizations - but Crocker is more like a comedian giving a sustained stand-up performance.
Laurel Nakadate's Oops (2001) - in which a lithe young woman dances to Britney Spears' "Oops! ... I Did It Again" in various rooms of a shabby old house with three singularly unnattractive men she has apparently invited in on separate occasions - is similarly engrossing, not the least for making you wonder how she got these paunchy, unshaven, aging men, not one of whom can really dance, to perform for her camera. Oops is funny at first, then creepy in the extreme.
Quite a few of the videos in this show are amusing and disturbing. Ronnie Cramer's Highway Amazon (2001), a documentary about a female bodybuilder who makes a living wrestling men in hotel rooms, borrows the look of a Russ Meyer sexploitation film; Jenny Vosacek's documentary film Caregiver Challenge (2005) is only a little less strange than the Maysles brothers' Grey Gardens, and perhaps on a par, since it follows the activities of her own eccentric mother.
But the weirdest, most sophisticated work here is George Kuchar's Vault of Vapors (2009). Kuchar, 67, one of America's best-known underground filmmakers (he moved to video in the 1980s), tells the story of an old man (played by Kuchar) living alone in Oklahoma. The piece combines the classical music of old horror films, a first-person narration reminiscent of film noir, and images of sky, landcape, and gritty interiors straight out of a Sergio Leone Western. Yet it's Kuchar's zany humor - including bathroom humor - that really animates his video.
"Hurts So Good" also features videos by Skip Arnold, Cara Crombie, J. Makary, Chris Miner, Mika Rottenberg, and Mike Stuve.