Catching up with time at Sylvia Kania Gallery

The past is upon us
By NICHOLAS SCHROEDER  |  March 2, 2011

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‘UNDER HER MAJESTY’S SUMMER GOWN’ Beeswax on canvas and wood frame by Blake Hiltunen.
With its modest confines and compromised winter hours, you could be forgiven for sloshing briskly past the Sylvia Kania Gallery this time of year. But while we're all waiting for winter to end, it's worth a visit to see how these inspired local artists pass the time. In turns fleshy, aromatic, gooey, and wistful, the gallery's exhibition "It's a Matter of Time" collects four young artists in radically different processes of appropriating temporality and the passing of the hours.

To prepare "Somme Nous les Jouets du Destin," an interactive installation by gallery director Jessica Lauren Lipton, more than 300 cups of tea were served at a gallery reception in mid-February. Now, far fewer remain; the couple dozen that do sit in disarray along two wooden shelves. The exhibition is the third of a four-part study in, using Lipton's term, "obsessive tendencies," although the process of leaving several cups of tea to rot is a passive obsession indeed. Lipton (er, no relation) succeeds in evoking the sensation of a party long since past. Predictably, the teabags have begun to mold over. The smell of orange pekoe, a popular choice here, mixes with a fetid rank.

Whether fibrous, viscous, or constantly moving, the bodies of work prepared by Blake Hiltunen add a living quality to the exhibition, integrating time as a working concept rather than a topic of study. This is most clearly present in "Fountain," a mechanical installation where black ink streams down the face of a raw canvas (framed and mounted on sheet rock) and collects into a reservoir below, where a pump cycles it back again. The tiny Victorian frame in "Mirror Relic" is so corroded with calcium carbonate that it resembles a coral trophy, its white, mossy fields forming fractals over the glass, while "Attrition (Interior) II," a sinewy tower of vitreous black resin mounted on a pedestal, accomplishes a similar sensation of decay.

Hiltunen's wax works are as impressive as they are grotesque. In "For God and Glory" (many of his pieces have similarly epic titles), a fount of reddish, petroleum-based wax protrudes from a seemingly floating, eye-level wooden frame and collects in a solidified puddle on the floor. Installed in the middle of the room and human-sized, the piece has an overwhelming presence: a wax statue wearing a frame as its crown. In "Under Her Majesty's Summer Gown," an ornate canvas and wood frame is swamped in a thick beeswax mould. Behind it, a curtain of yellow wax collects in vertical folds, forming pockets of shadows. As in "For God and Glory," the wax recalls Joseph Beuys's seminal work with animal fat, and comes charged with a slightly sexualized physicality.

Audacious or monstrous though they may be, Hiltunen's visual works are particularly interesting for being self-contained. The exhibition's theme can be evoked by envisioning the slow, methodical process required to craft each piece, but essentially, his visual works are not grouped by a particular concept. And while his titles seem prodigious, they seem to remove some of the gravity from the pieces themselves, helping them to stand refreshingly on their own.

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  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Joseph Beuys, Art, Sylvia Kania Gallery,  More more >
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