July 12, 2006

In The Gallery

The Fireplace Project,

851 Springs Fireplace Road

"Tempest - 14 Artists on View."

When the former Talmage Garage, empty since 1992, became an art exhibition space last month, a prominent, rainbow-colored wood and metal art deco sign of graduating letters on the front lot suggested the arrival of a gallery with edge. What viewers got at the inaugural show, however, were David Ryan's "upbeat elegant" muted-colored atmospheric oils. What they get now with "The Tempest" is what gallery-owner Edsel Williams is really all about. The sign is gone ("on loan to a private collector") and so are tame and traditional.

Indeed, Williams, a tattoo-sporting former ballet dancer, yoga and aerobics teacher, one-time curator at Glenn Horowitz on Newtown Lane and exhibition director of the Green Barn Gallery in Sagaponack, who hails from Virginia, is himself a bit of edge. With "luck," he says ("well, for sure it's not my Southern charm"), he won the support of, among others, the Talmage family, promising to keep the garage restoration as close to its original design as possible.

"I'm on destination," says Williams, establishing a place where "anything can happen," meaning a gallery "definitely not on Newtown Lane." No one shows this kind of work out here, he says of his second show — art that's "not safe," art that's not, in the usual understanding of the term, "user friendly."

The canny, focused gallery owner also wants to show changing emerging artists. No stable of fixed names, no feeling obligated to particular people, no personal relationships that might interfere with professional goals. He wants "complete freedom" to put on the kind of shows he wants and to work with guest curators like John Connelly, who brought in artists from his own gallery in Chelsea — John Connelly Presents — for "The Tempest" and who shares Williams' attitude — nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Connelly's own opposing self manifests itself at once on the exhibition postcard announcement, which contains a photo of a Fordham University playbill of The Tempest (he played Sebastian). The Fireplace Project exhibit, however, has nothing to do with Shakespeare's play. The title was chosen to reflect Connelly's desire "to resist categories" and to ensure that the 14 artists in the show would not be seen as reflecting a particular style or responding to an overarching theme. No chance.

Standing guard outside (two in front, one in the back) Kent Hendricksen's painted fiberglass Head Sculptures, eyes and lips protruding, as though from hoods —The Robber, The Ghost, The Bomber — may represent an African American, a Puerto Rican, an Anglo Saxon (figure them out and confront your biases?), and they set the stage for the scene inside, some of which is gay and lesbian, and which further challenges stereotyping. Assume vivid astro focus collaborative's black and white helium-filled balloons, their streamers wafting to the floor in the paneled front room, sport the slogan "sodomy is not a civil right," mocking such signs as they have been held by children at anti-gay rallies.

The balloons hover near Grant Worth's abstract video Kaleidoscope 2006, its colorful, sharp-angled geometric urban designs unfolding in counterpoint to the sound of rushing water. A wall away Scott Treleaven's beautifully rendered b & w gay punk c-prints command attention, their granular chiaroscuro effects due to the film having been run through an x-ray machine. Nearby, Kaye Donachie's portrait teases, a lovely graphite on paper, but "not for sale."

In an inside room Jonah Freeman and Michael Phelan's collaborative photomontage archival prints, from their Eurasia Series, present blurred, layered images of Asian women, taken from a soft-core porn magazine. The subtle warm colors contrast nicely with Ara Peterson's two wood styrene and white paint curving sculptures that flank the room. The variety of media is apparent, from Justin Samson's large fabric-sided canvas, a sci-fi oil on wood fantasy, to Marco Boggio Sella's delicate brown, black, tan, yellow-green African looking batik, and Scott Hug's arresting photo, No Escaping Martha, an image of a somber Stewart that is also reflected in a perpendicular glass extension.

Other pieces in the show include Michael Magnan's untitled photo collage construction-paper shapes pasted onto magazine photos of the late Pope; a smoothly painted symbolic representational painting by Michael Wetzel; a bold-colored oil-on-linen abstract by Kim Fisher; and an untitled mixed media pencil drawing and frame, set on striped fabric, by Andrew Mania. The exhibition runs through July 24, but the restored garage is a must see anytime.

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