Tedium and enchantment

Frances Stark, Bruce Myren, Rebecca Lieberman, and Megan & Murray McMillan
By GREG COOK  |  November 3, 2010

WHITETAIL DEER? Like the best of Minimalism, Lieberman’s work demands your own heightened awareness of your surroundings.

Can it be a good sign when a curator writes that the artist he's featuring in her first US museum survey "has laid bare the creative act in all its tedium and enchantment for over two decades"? The word "tedium" printed there on the gallery wall sets off alarm bells.

Not that it's really the right word for Los Angeles artist Frances Stark's "This could become a gimick [sic] or an honest articulation of the workings of the mind" (at MIT's List Visual Arts Center through January 2), pace List curator João Ribas. Sharp, charismatic craftiness devoted to banalities is more like it.

Stark fashions portraits of books and emails with carbon-paper-traced transfers. In To a Selected Theme (Fit to Print) (2007), she collages simple strips of mylar, yellow paper, and red, white, and pink scraps to depict a comfortable domestic interior: a table, a vase, a flower, a poster for an art show. Other collages depict a peacock, a vacuum cleaner, or a hall bureau.

Stark creates trompe-l'oeil effects that echo William Harnett's 19th-century illusionistic paintings of letters and newspaper clippings tacked to doors. In Stupidity (pink) (2009), she collages a black silhouette of an arm from which dangle papers and fabrics — some of which actually curl out from the pink background paper. This sort of visual punning also appears in In and In (2005), a simplified rendering of two piles of papers made from collaged-on rectangles of junk mail. Often the works feature curious, poetic scraps of text (original or from books or songs). At the bottom of In and Out (2009), collaged clippings spell out "In and Out Burger/of a Human Hole."

And then there are Stark's short videos of her cats meandering around interiors to classical music or Diana Ross and the Supremes. The felines perform no tricks. It's typical half-assed home footage, all resolutely mundane. In general, Stark's work is elegant, thoughtful, pretty, with consistently careful handcraft and tidy professional polish . . . but no frisson. Or to put it another way, the show could use a little less tedium and a little more enchantment.

At Axiom Gallery (through November 27), Pawtucket couple Megan and Murray McMillan screen their brief new video "What Stands Between Us and the Sun." A man and a woman sit in a rowboat atop a sea of silver-mylar-topped tables. The boat glides to the right, past pillars and potted plants silhouetted by fabulous gold light coming in windows at the end of the large warehouse room (in Central Falls, Rhode Island). The couple get out of the boat, pick up folding chairs, and sit in them facing the windows. The boat glides away to the left and then swings into the air. Assistants appear at the edge of the "lake," pulling ropes that lift up a section of the tabletops to form a three-sided room around the seated couple. Pause, then the couple rise, walk to the left, and sit in their boat again, where they began. And assistants lower the room walls.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Museums, MIT List Visual Arts Center, MIT List Visual Arts Center,  More more >
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