‘The Conditions Were Just Right’ at World’s Fair

The pleasure of patterns
By GREG COOK  |  March 13, 2013

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INDUSTRIAL BEAUTY Potenza’s Geometry Rose.

At heart, "The Conditions Were Just Right" at World's Fair at Machines With Magnets (400 Main St, Pawtucket, through March 31) is about the subtle pleasures of geometry.

Tanya Merrill, a New York painter formerly based in Providence, follows in the footsteps of Richard Diebenkorn and Agnes Martin with her delicate compositions and faint palette. Untitled #7 is composition of various sized bars in pale gray, white, and peach. The painting is animated by the rhythm of these variations, by the contrast of all the rectangles with the triangle at top left, by the comparison of all the pale hues with the stark black bar running along the bottom right and up the whole left side. Merrill ranges from fine pencil lines to thick black bars, from washy paint that reveals what's underneath to opaque matte or satin finishes. Her compositions have the most snap when she crisply colors inside her lines.

Providence's Elizabeth Potenza uses metal and glass in brawny sculptures that evoke industry as well as the asymmetric stained glass grids of Frank Lloyd Wright. Angle of Repose, fashioned from recycled float glass and salvaged steel, could be an old, multi-paned factory window. Square panes of green glass — some with peach tints — are hung in groups of six in a vertical frame. The panes lean in and out, and overlap some, as if opening and closing. In Geometry Rose, a repurposed Conestoga wagon wheel rim encircles a symmetrical design of amber-hued glass rings (they look something like cross-sections of bottles) in a rose pattern. Potenza has a strong technique, but right now her compositions feel too heavy, too repetitively decorative.

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INTRIGUING Part of Coleman’s Americanabilia Series.

Ceramicist Justin Coleman, who studied at RISD and now teaches in Pittsburgh, taps into the crystal and stripe designs that have been popular over the past decade. On the one hand, he makes gem-shaped sculptures decorated with rugby stripes. A-Hedron (Daniel) resembles a big crystal of matte black coal or iron glazed with milky white stripes. It's energized by the alluring contrasts — matte versus glossy, the cosmic feel of the crystal forms versus the quick, loose-seeming stripes.

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DAYGLO CAMOUFLAGE Childress’s Plane Ascension.
His Americanabilia Series offers two arrangements of own his bowls and abstract ceramic lumps grouped with found and recast copies of tchotchkes — an owl, a baby in a winter coat, a pile of skulls, a pig, a camel, a cute Klansman, a fist, a lamp, hands, a head of a swan, a frog, a dinosaur, cattle. In one group, the knickknacks are maimed, with fingers chopped off little ceramic hands and heads lopped off little statues of cattle. It's an intriguing combination. Coleman's own shapes feel alien. And the knickknacks read like some portrait of the unconscious of middle-class America.

Willa Van Nostrand's World's Fair gallery has such a strong, sure sensibility. And this three-person show is a great grouping in which the artists' various approaches to abstraction compliment each other, but also showcase their individuality.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Machines With Magnets
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