It’s spring, which means it’s time to drag the Core Fellows out of their studios and put them on display. Always highly anticipated, the Core program’s ever-increasing prestige means the annual show at the Glassell School of Art has become nearly a feeding frenzy for galleries. Whether by accident or design, most of the fellows have chosen to install large single pieces, a good bet in Glassell’s difficult, cavernous space.
Brent Steen‘s I don’t know what to do for you highlights the circus-pony aspect of the Core show. A near life-sized photo of Steen stands facing the viewer in an otherwise empty room with an ambiguous expression: half embarrassment, half challenge. The picture has a subtle oddity; the way the camera sees Steen doesn’t quite match the way one would see him in person. We look down on him from above, his legs and feet dwarfed and his face and upper body exaggerated by foreshortening. Just chin-high, Steen’s Smurf-like figure looks at us with puppy-dog eyes like a lost pet in a cardboard box.
Allison Wiese has laboriously copied the text of a 1940 letter from Woody Guthrie onto eight sheets of creamy drawing paper. It’s an impersonal letter, with Guthrie rehashing folksy truisms in a rambling conversational style that might be an excerpt from Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath. The letter’s visual presence is no improvement on the text. It’s like a beginning calligraphy exercise; the erratic brushwork lacks the grace and precision of formal lettering, without the expressive idiosyncrasies of handwriting. Her framed photo of boys playing with paintball guns on a suburban hillside evokes the easy irony of children with toy weapons, a point further belabored by a varnished pine frame reminiscent of a hunting lodge or basement rec room.
Betsy Coulter‘s installation boils down to a single amazing snapshot, casually lying in the dismembered carcass of an old dresser: A teen-aged girl in her underwear stands facing the camera in hockey gear: helmet, stick, and padding. The extreme contrast of vulnerability and aggressiveness equates athleticism with sexuality, protection with bondage, all with the coy wholesomeness of a slumber party gag. Coulter’s large-scale photos of junkheaps are, by contrast, inexpressive.
In Trenton Doyle Hancock‘s Mr. Pibb, a wall of large scrawly writing tells an obscure fairytale from his personal mythology. The melodrama of the lettering is deflated by a can of Mr. Pibb on the concrete floor in front of the text. With wry wit Hancock exploits his double-Whitney cachet to get away with about the dumbest thing one can do in an art gallery: placing a lone soda can on the floor. Bye and Bye, a patched-canvas piece on the wall next door, is a Noah’s ark of sad animals. From armadillo to iguana, all lament the death of a skull-topped bone tree. Almost monochrome, the piece has the heavy intricacy of a Dürer -woodcut, with the same simple delight in spotting the different species.
Aiko Hachisuka‘s Mountain Farm is tough to judge: it’s superficially just like a million other post-80’s pathetic art projects made from old blankets, but done so well it can’t be dismissed offhand. A jumble of stuffed shapes in dull yellows and beiges are vividly tactile: recalling discarded sofa cushions, rock formations, spilled stuffing, and giant soggy dog kibble. Details further complicate matters: a pile of brick-shaped orange blocks like a campfire, an actual chewed rawhide dog toy, two blue tubes and a patch of gray spore-lumps force one to re-examine the landscape piece by piece like a forensic expert searching for the single hair which will convict the killer.
Sigrid Sandstrom hides a mural of freaky volcanoes, glaciers and clouds in a darkened room. Using the flashlights provided at the entrance, one explores the painting inch by inch, like Indiana Jones in an Egyptian tomb. The painting unfolds as if one was taking a journey through a fire and ice landscape, but it’s an uneventful trip; there are too many repetitive clouds and ice floes between the nifty ice mountain and the cloud vortex. Stilted, cartoonish painting gives the piece an amateurish sci-fi ambiance, as if it was the backdrop for a fantasy-gamer’s convention.
So hip it’s painful, Santiago Cucullu‘s sprawling wall sticker strings some nodes of fascinating drawing together with some patches of gratuitous hippy-dippy frippery. The piece’s pseudo-scientific title, A feeble attempt at describing the Amazing Coprolite, its origins, periods of hibernation and moments of discovery. Note how it transcends utterance and the plural nature of its being. shares the same lighthearted head trip. The jumbled narrative begins with three dudes, mutates into a blue cloud which might be holding out its arm to cradle a flying woman, then streams across the wall into a montage with a drummer, a swimmer and an old guy who could be Joe Stalin scrunching falling people into a trash bin. Or maybe it’s something else entirely; the important thing is that the best bits generate a compelling curiosity, and that there are enough of them to offset merely stylish trivia in between.
Karyn Olivier‘s grackles, perched on the parapet beneath the Glassell’s vault, come in four poses: leaning left, leaning right, looking up, staring straight ahead. Mixing and matching gives a roughly natural flocking effect, except for a long line of 23 identical right-leaners looking as if they’ve been called to attention. The birds recall scenes from Hitchcock’s famous film, but seem more curious than menacing: making a mild parody of the way people loiter at the Glassell’s mezzanine railing looking down on those passing below.
Bill Davenport is an artist and writer from Houston.