The Wonder Salon, Linda Durham Contemporary Art, 1807 Second St., Suite 107, 466-6600; through Jan. 4, 2010
Avoiding all references to Wonder Woman, the D.C. Comics superhero, for an exhibit of work by 11 women called The Wonder Salon will be tough, especially since the figure ofWonderWoman is tied to publicity put out by Linda Durham Contemporary Art, site of the show. The genesis of the exhibition came through Durham’s invitation-only salon where artists Lynda Braun, Marina Brownlow, Rachel Darnell, Anne Farrell, Shaun Gilmore, Sondra Goodwin, Barbara Ingram, Jennifer Joseph, Joanne Lefrak, Patricia Pearce, and Danielle Shelley met periodically to discuss issues involving women and art. So it’s not surprising that an exhibition of their work caps off the end of Durham’s evening get-togethers.
Wonder Salon is a hodgepodge of artwork that reflects the different aesthetics of the individual artists. So don’t expect to find a general theme. And like a show of this ilk, some of the work is engaging on a variety of levels — visually, emotionally, and intellectually— while others struggle for attention. In all of 37 pieces— a number that sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t for this show — some are exceptional.
Lefrak continues to be one of the most creative artists in New Mexico, if not the region. Her single contribution to the exhibit is a vertical piece of Plexiglas into which she etched an image titled Trinity Site. Lefrak’s surface scratching, however, is nearly invisible, but the shadow cast on the wall from the etched drawing displays a detailed landscape in subtle tones of gray that, at a glance, looks photographic. The scene is a desert terrain composed of a fenced-in restricted zone; beyond is a low mountain range. The title infuses the image with meaning, but even without the notorious reference, Lefrak’s concept is mesmerizing. The ethereal nature of her piece is like the secret goings-on at the bomb site— activities you hear about, but never see. And what’s fascinating is that the closer you stand in front of Lefrak’s work— in hopes of seeing something more critical in the artist’s rendering— the more your own shadow obliterates parts of her drawing, which is a thought-provoking circumstance.
Two totemic wall assemblages— Spirit of the Find and The Collection— by Pearce have elements in common with work by the late American sculptor Louise Nevelson, as well as work by the recently deceased Taos artist Melissa Zink. Her neatly organized rectangular relief sculptures consist of sections of antique gilt frames juxtaposed with fragments of book bindings, various wood molding, and objets d’art, such as a gold-painted figurine, bone-made dominoes, and a block of ivory with a coastal scene done in scrimshaw. Pearce’s constructs feel more Victorian than contemporary. Like a couple of exclamation points on the wall, these highly compartmentalized pieces stand out in rather regal fashion amid the other work in the exhibit. And Pearce’s closely determined color scheme of gold and low-key tonalities makes for an understated dynamic that left me wanting to see at least a couple of more in the series.
Four black-and-white platinum/palladium photographs by Goodwin depict a nude woman in various nonsensical poses amid mundane props. Taken separately, they’re actually quite silly. But considered collectively, the allegorical narrative of The Vanity Project holds significant meaning. Individually subtitled as Shield, Obstacle Course, Balance, and Saw, Goodwin’s images allude to the many hoops women have to jump through to sustain their public persona in contemporary society, a society too often influenced by the fashion industry. And Goodwin makes clear that daily maintenance can be perilous. With body paint resembling sheer hosiery and arm-length gloves, the lone poseur — who is Goodwin — is staged in situations that symbolize uncomfortable predicaments. In one, Goodwin holds in front of herself a large round shield that masks her face and upper torso. In another, we see her in profile kneeling precariously on an oil drum with arms stretched out in front of her. And in the most intriguing photo, the artist is seated on the floor with her back to us with legs spread apart, holding the ends of a long, arcing saw blade that rests on her head with a second saw blade balancing atop the other.
Into the Thicket, an installation piece by Farrell, consists of three video monitors stacked vertically with miniature makeshift trees placed around them. The top monitor displays a tree branch blowing in the wind highlighted by garish hues of pink and green. The bottom monitor depicts overlaid images of trees swaying in the breeze with a central horizontal branch occupied by two mourning doves. The middle screen streams a close-up of a young woman seemingly by herself in a wooded area, while the only audio is the sound of wind blowing through trees. The persona of the woman changes from a state of calm to heightened alertness to foreboding as she begins to look back and forth, leaving us to imagine what might be causing her anxiety.
The woman-in-distress syndrome is formulaic, seen in so many films that date back to the silent era. But Farrell’s techno-based take on the subject works to great effect. The dichotomy of the soothing sounds of rustling leaves and the whimsy of the Lilliputian trees with the developing stress seen in the woman’s eyes and facial expressions results in a shared moment of unknowing and fear within the viewer. This is heady stuff for such a bare-bones installation.
Other pieces in the show are not quite so disturbing but still convey artistic explorations of note. Formalism, abstraction, photo-based computer manipulation, and design theory are there for your consideration. Durham’s Wonder Salon, I trust, will not be a one-time wonder as it’s worth repeating with a new cast of characters.
Joanne Lefrak: Trinity Site, 2009, scatched Plexiglas, archival ink, and shadow, 34 x 26 inches
Patricia Pearce: Spirit of the Find, left, 62 x 16 x 4.75 inches, and The Collection, 64 x 16 x 5.5 inches, both 2009, mixed-media assemblages