R.K. Project’s sprawling ‘Micro-Eutopia’

Ambitious abstractions
By GREG COOK  |  October 17, 2012

ENGAGING LAYERS Keller’s Trollbeads.
If you're looking for where art is headed, "Micro-Eutopia," the 19-artist show at Sam Keller and Tabitha Piseno's R.K. Projects (204 Westminster Street, Providence, through November 10), is a good place to start. And the duo have announced that it's their last exhibit in this space (they have a side project at the Kellaway Center in Pawtucket through October 27) before they relocate to New York, so get there soon.

On the one hand, "Micro-Eutopia" embodies where abstraction is today — messy, junky, grungy, scarred, charred, and rusted. It feels like the wreckage and the hangover after the big party the night before.

Annabeth Marks's That Guy is red and white lines like psychedelic tree rings on a warped and rumpled rectangle of paper pulp. CF's pages of surreal comics pasted to a board slathered and stained with paint look like something recovered from a flooded cellar. Ara Peterson and Jim Drain's Stocks are found wood worked to resemble colonial prisoner stocks covered with silvery, bronzy paint that makes it seem both burned and like something from your local neighborhood bondage disco.

Other works highlight the voice prominent in this sort of art — playing funny dumb, favoring non sequiturs. Craig Smith Dermody's potted trees support racks of CDs with flowers on their covers. Muffy Brandt's photos of what look to be a couple of dead rats decomposing on pavement hang below a joke photo of a lolling cat with someone holding a clown mask in front of its face. Lyndon C. Lopez's photocopied zine A Shitty Eagle Is Born offer collages of a pissing carton Calvin with a photo of a dog in a ketchup bottle costume, and a knife plunging through a hand, a palm tree, a tire, and soap. Brian Chippendale's Top Tweets 3 are scrawled with gnomic words of wisdom: "The toothbrush is just a thug with a baseball bat standing between me and my bed"; "I fear automatic weapons way worse than gay marriage or marijuana, I guess some people don't though." I assume they're actual tweets since he's active on Twitter.

Frankly, much of this doesn't grab me. The purposeful lunkhead half-assedness rings sour. And how do we discern the difference between carefully "bad" painting and simply bad painting? But perhaps I'm missing something. Certainly this is territory where ambitious, trailblazing folks are busy these days.

There's something in this art that recalls Dadaism — the absurdist movement that artists fashioned in response to the horrific absurdity of World War I. This time around, the carefully pursued dopey look and the ruinous style might (consciously? unconsciously?) channel America after two lousy wars and the Great Recession. The exhibit's title could give a hint: the gallery defines Eutopia as "a place of ideal well-being — as a practical aspiration compared with utopia as an impossible concept."

On the other hand, this art often directly draws draw inspiration from 1980s expressionist painting — when Frank Stella toggled between his new messy painted aluminum reliefs and the Minimalist paintings of hard-edged bands of color that made his name in the 1950s and '60s.

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