Tedium and enchantment

By GREG COOK  |  November 3, 2010

It's an incredible, dreamy, poetic vision, but the focus on the magically rising walls feels anticlimactic. Perhaps because after the dramatic opening of this allegory, the walls feel stagy rather than like resonant symbols. We learn that, yes, people are constantly creating barriers between themselves and nature. Then the performance just trails off.

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IN AND IN: Stark’s charismatic craftiness notwithstanding, her show could use a little less tedium and a little more enchantment.
Boston photographer Bruce Myren follows a conceptual bent inspired by '70s New Topographics photography's detached style of specimen collecting. He pursues self-assigned topics — monuments, places where he's lived in Massachusetts, visits to the sites of childhood memories — that together mull the value we assign places as individuals, as communities, and how, say, a scrappy, muddy bit of woods might be more important for the conversation about sex he had with a girl there years ago than for, say, its beauty or mineral rights.

In his "Selections from the Fortieth Parallel" (at Gallery Kayafas through November 27), he uses his 8x10 Deardorff camera — similar to the view cameras used in 19th-century government geological surveys of the West — to document crossings of the 40th-parallel latitude with each line of longitude across the country. The assignment is ultimately some 50 points. Here we get eight panoramic triptychs: dry brown farmland in Colorado, high-tension power-line towers standing sentinel in a parched Colorado plain, cornstalks in Kansas, tall dry scrub along the side of a Colorado road, blue dusk sky reflected in a pond (or is it a flood?) in Kansas.

But why does this particular cartographic line matter? Myren writes of the 40th Parallel's connection to American colonization of the West, of exploring people's need to lay systems over the landscape to ground themselves. But those ideas don't radiate from the photos, which as a group feel kind of random. Perhaps that disconnect between how we define the land and what it actually looks like is the point, but it's a somewhat unsatisfying one. Maybe it doesn't matter, because in the wide flat vistas of the middle of the country, Myren finds a lovely lyricism.

The title of Rebecca Lieberman's "Whitetail Deer, A to Z" (at Anthony Greaney through November 6) refers to a video, playing on two televisions, in which she re-enacts an '80s taxidermy instructional video that uses a driftwood log instead of a deer. It's an art-geek absurdist joke that's, well, only mildly funny.

What's worth checking out is her sculptural installation, which fills the rest of the gallery with wooden constructions resembling frames and plaques, xylophones, bed headboards, shelves, and cabinets disconnected from their original purpose. These are mounted on the walls, propped up, leaned over, hung from ropes, and hinged. A square of floor planking rests on a pair of boards a couple of inches off the floor.

Lieberman's focus on the vocabulary of home carpentry is part of the lineage of hardcore Minimalism. She warms it by her materials (old wood, new, varnished, plywood veneer, wood-grain contact paper, all of it rhyming with the gallery's wood floor), a very dry wit, and her cataloguing of familiar homy shapes. Like the best of Minimalism, it demands your own heightened awareness of your surroundings.

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