Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Nominal Surfy Art Shows (or a Journey To Managing Expectations)

A few days ago, Antonio and I walked over to the Clic gallery on Broome before lunch to view Sea, Surf and Sun, a nominally surf art group show. The ensuing lunchtime chat made me think I might pen my very first art show review. This being my first foray, I'll say this right off the bat I don't generally put a lot of thought into the quality of curation of surf art shows. Usually it's an interesting enough thing to witness what constitutes surf art by another's estimation. I should also say, right off the bat, that perhaps this isn't a surf art show at all, and I am just projecting that moniker into a space filled with surfboards, surf photo books and pictures of watery things. Maybe there is simply a surfy component to the show, as the show's title spells out. Despite all of the obvious inadequacies of my research, I'll stick with this as a review of sorts of a surf art show. This is the parameter I guess I get to set. First off, in this vein, I'll say the quality of the work is top notch. The prints are clean, the compositions are compelling, and the nude swimming girl is indeed quite nude.
Tony Caramanico, long time Montauk surfer and Peter Beard acolyte holds the show together on the surf tip. His large framed prints (and rice paper surfboard glassed-in prints) of pages from the collage books he has constructed detail a life spent surfing, wandering and free-associating. They are worth the look up close and big. There was once a full-time Peter Beard exhibit that lived down on Broome in Soho. It was regular stop during my first handfull of years in New York. I'd walk in there every few weeks it seems. I could see a similar show, with careful consideration, happening with Mr. Caramanico's collage books and an assortment of boards and nicknacks from a lifetime of Montauk living. It wouldn't be a waste of space. Antoine Verglas' black and white photographs are a thoughtful rumination on the dry often overlooked at the beach. The perspective is insightful especially sitting next to Jean-Phillipe Piter and Wayne Levin's lushly aquatic underwater photos. Burton Machen's focus experiments with waves are calming then unsettling, some of these works capturing a sense of reminiscent movement, a nod to the perspective of the paddle. Hidden in a corner are some more surf-collage pieces by a sixth artist unheralded in the show notes, an apparently late addition from an artist working in France.
Now, the lunchtime conversation. Over a plate of yellow rice, black beans, sweet plantains and sauteed spinach, we found the the critical question about the show was the selling of what was basically a regular group show emphasizing aquatic things as a genuine surf art show. One feeling we came away with is that it was a product of some surfing friends getting together one night over a bottle of wine, deciding that they should have a surf art show. As only a couple of them actually produce surf content in their work, they figure the rest of the stuff really probably ought to have something to do with water or the beach. The other feeling is that the bookstore part of the gallery has a few extra copies of some Leroy Grannis and Ron Church books in stock and needed to figure out a way to move them. Either way, the thing feels a little less satisfying than the sum of its parts.
There are always the pitfalls in talking art. The classic conundrums of taxonomy where taxonomy is not invited. But there are definitely some alternatives to taking a bunch of watery work and lumping it together with some surf books. There is the whole (for lack of a better description, and this is sad) Thomas Campbell Mollusk pushed aesthetic. Squirrely line drawings and bold solid designs. This is a movement of sorts. There is also the aforementioned single show of Tony Caramanico work. Depending on what peripherals could be attained, that would be pretty invigorating. Recently we saw a neat photo show next to Mollusk in Brooklyn that held together nicely based on the quality of the surf photography. There are certainly ways to make a surf art show work. This one just doesn't fit the bill so well.
The Clic Gallery was kind enough to let me take some pictures, even extending the invitation to come back and take more photos and attend the opening. The work is worth a peek, especially given the confines. That gift horse shouldn't be looked in the mouth. They also have a handful of great photo books on sale, as well as a show catalog of Tony Caramanico's work for twenty five bucks. I'll probably get one of those myself.
This has been a test of the Endless Bummer NY review system. This has only been a test. If this were a real review, written by a smarty pants, it would not be on this blog.

Clic Gallery


Jamie Watson said...

This was awesome! And funny! I love the pictures of your friends. You are so good at this.

Toddy said...

Thanks Jamie. I wish I'd be able to do a glowing review of the Mattson show. I'll just do one now, preemptive style.

"Recently I was blessed to walk into a space full of goodness and light and amazing artwork at SurfIndian in San Diego. You should have been there."

There, that's what I got.

rebeccajane said...

If that review was a test...

you pass!!

gustav said...

You guys are the coolest critics out there & u eat really healthy food!