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Low Epic

Chashama 303
303 Tenth Avenue, 212-391-8151
December 5 - December 10, 2012
Reception: Thursday, December 6, 6 - 8 PM
Web Site

presenting the work of

Paul D’Agostino Joe Ballweg Stephanie Costello Joy Curtis Kelly McRaven Dona Nelson Rebecca Ora Josh Willis

curated by Sheryl Oppenheim

gallery hours daily 12-6pm

INTERVIEWER: But the characters you pick as your epic heroes—the gangster, for example—are not usually thought of as epic, are they? Yet you seem to find the epic there?

BORGES: I think there is a kind of, perhaps, of low epic in him—no?

INTERVIEWER: Do you mean that since the old kind of epic is apparently no longer possible for us, we must look to this kind of character for our heroes?

Paris Review (1967)

This exhibition seeks to present the idea of the low epic through the work of eight contemporary artists. As seen in the example of the gangster from the interview above, the subjects and materiality of their works are not traditionally thought of as epic. One can argue that most of us do not want or know how to approach the idea of the epic in making work today – and if we did, how exactly would we define it? The conviction and eloquence, according to Borges, of the artist’s eye and hand transform the banal or overlooked into the epic for our time.

Dona Nelson’s freestanding, double-sided paintings are stained with pigment and crisscrossed with cheesecloth. They are abstract and yet not quite – although lacking nameable imagery, the paintings evoke specific times and places (not a battle or a birth or a death, but two days in July or her studio at night) with such exhilarating force that we are transported to that place (without fully appreciating where there is) through the sheer power of color and line.

Lillian—Chinese, lesbian, mentally ill, punk—is a hero formed in the cameras of the luxury boutique employees she visits daily. Rebecca Ora’s humorously disturbing video, Watching Lillian, weaves the tale of Lillian’s fetishization through role-play, musical montage, and fortune-telling, dissolving the distinction between fact and fiction and favoring the fantastical and surreal over the simplistic and obvious.

Joy Curtis’ monochromatic plaster assemblages appear to be in a state of static decay, cobbled together or seen as only a fraction of an ornate, absent whole. Cast from the cheaply made, modest architectural flourishes that are meant to dignify the constructions where we live and work, Curtis’ sculptures re-claim a lost narrative of elegance and humanity out of the instantly forgotten elevators and hallways through which we move.

The large ink drawings of Stephanie Costello show a similar interest in transforming the everyday into the fantastic. The decaying and overcrowded urban landscapes derive from Costello’s time spent in Barcelona, Brooklyn, and India. The drawings are lavishly rendered – an enormous pile of bricks, a pointlessly undulating flag. Yet the cityscapes are sinister and anti-heroic, and compelling in their starkness, scale, and detail.

The poet and artist Paul D’Agostino creates what he calls polytype monotypes – oil paint vignettes printed onto brown butcher paper, where the leaching oil creates a halo around the increasingly degraded images pulled from a single plate. Epic also implies narrative, and D’Agostino’s work invokes a dual sense of this narrative – there is the poem (itself an original mode of epic storytelling) that accompanies the images, and then the translation that occurs by the destruction of the image from one print to the next, into oblivion.

In Kelly McRaven’s work there is a sense that we are witnessing something monumental happening, despite the seemingly banal subjects she has chosen to paint. There is an implied brutality in the brusque gestures and severe palettes that belies the calmness of the landscapes, seascapes, and interiors that her canvases depict.

Josh Willis’ dystopic, many-layered monotype prints show evidence of a destructed whole – sometimes a landscape, other times a grid or a field of color. The title of the series, Fujita’s Wager, comes from the scale by which the destructiveness of tornadoes is measured; the most extreme storm on the scale is purely theoretical, as it represents one level greater than total destruction. The destruction is subverted and tempered by the indirectness of the printmaking process. The gestures captured in the prints give them a sense of halted time that echoes the frightening moments immediately preceding the touchdown of a mythically powerful storm.

In a sense, Joe Ballweg’s paintings are the least epic work in the exhibition. There is a tension between illusion and illustration in his work, and although they are pointedly non-representational, like Nelson’s work they have a strongly felt sense of a narrated time and place. The positive and negative spaces encroach upon each other in a way that invokes night trespassing on day, or city upon open land. This is the epic of the natural, the routine, the celestial.

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this exhibition has been made possible thanks to a space donation by Chashama
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