I hope Rose Contemporary’s inaugural exhibition, Space Invaders, curated by Virginia Sassman Rose and John Nickle, inspires other curators to achieve a similar level of excellence. Individual selections are outstanding, and the resonances between works lend a compelling buzz to the entire exhibit. The viewer is provided a clear conceptual lens through which to view the work, and yet nothing is heavy-handed. It is hard to believe there are 46 works by 21 artists on view in this small gallery.
The first work that caught my eye was Rebecca Fitzpatrick’s “Cosmos,” an amorphous paper chain/quilt created by cutting and linking images of the universe. I imagine Fitzpatrick spending hours with old issues of National Geographic, enjoying the interplay of text and astronomical imagery. The light and the shifts in color within this piece are gorgeous, and the draping becomes more engaging with longer viewing. It sent my mind into thoughts about the shape of our universe, and then led my eye to Jeff Badger’s version of “The Gleaners,” in the opposite corner of the room.
The palette of “The Gleaners” is similar to “Cosmos.” The work is a nest made from found cords that contains three glass eggs glowing in alternating hues. I had to stand on my toes to peer into the nest, intrigued by the sounds emanating from within. Badger uses the residue of human innovation to explore the intersection of technology and nature, and does so in a way that encourages the viewer to ingest and reflect. “The Gleaners” offers a serious inquiry with a delicate hand.
Greta Bank’s hanging sculpture, “Fruit Bat,” in the center of the gallery, is fantastic. When I entered the piece, I laughed out loud. Any overly academic discussions about the gaze, voyeurism, or the role of the viewer fall away when encountering this piece. It’s fresh, intelligent and playful.
One of the keys to the success of Space Invaders is the combination of media. Rose and Nickle include sculpture, sound, painting, and works on paper, and pull them together with finesse. The one disappointment is the selection of photography.
East Village artist Kim Keever’s ethereal pieces read like muted memories of local artist Bennett Morris’ early photographic work. While Keever’s process is incredible — he constructs each of his images by fabricating and photographing landscapes within a 200-gallon fish tank — the two selections included here do not effectively communicate the full power of his work. Keever’s photographs are best seen large, and his bolder compositions are more engaging. (James Kalm’s YouTube interview with Keever offers a quirky inside glimpse.) On the opposite wall, Alexander Reyna’s “Big Love NYC” may be slick and sexy, but it’s also a bit of a letdown.
Space Invaders includes some truly stellar paintings, most notably Jean-Pierre Roy’s “Brockenspectre,” Peter Drake’s “Siege Machine,” and both “Red Alert” and “Tank” from John Jacobsmeyer.
“Tank” depicts a benign plywood tank within a small forest clearing. The contrast between the processed wood and the lush natural visage of the forest is powerful. There is an air of futility that borders on silliness in the presence of the tank. Its presence within this setting is humbling and spurs reflection on our role within the environment. The message goes deep, and percolates with a touch of humor.
Nearby, the ethereal, otherworldly terrain of Jean-Pierre Roy’s “Brockenspectre” simultaneously calls forth old Westerns and imaginary planets. We are invited into a space outside of time and are willingly transported despite the frightening, post-apocalyptic vibe.
The back room of the gallery is a quieter, more introspective space. It takes time to settle into a relationship with these pieces. Jennifer Presant’s “Retreat” and “Sunday News” are both worth slowing down to absorb. Presant’s oil paintings offer a rewarding mental getaway by blurring the boundaries of internal and external space in two dream-like landscapes reminiscent of René Magritte’s “Personal Values.”
Adriane Herman’s “Coping Mechanics” is another standout. At first glance, the work is simply a digital print of a series of lists photographed against a plain white ground. The inner meanderings/obsessions revealed by the lists are both poignant and humorous. Herman creates visual poetry with others’ “notes-to-self,” perhaps the rawest verse one could find.
Pondering the things others need to remind themselves of is enough, but Herman takes the piece a step further by offering the hint of an event. With closer inspection, it becomes clear that Herman’s photograph was taken on the same wall it now hangs upon. What is she suggesting with this added layer of memory? I left the gallery still pondering.
Space Invaders is a fantastic beginning to what will hopefully be a consistent string of compelling exhibits.
— Sarah Bouchard
Space Invaders shows through Sat., Aug. 27, at Rose Contemporary (formerly Whitney Art Works), 492 Congress St., Portland. The gallery is open Wed.-Sat. from 1 p.m.-6 p.m., and First Friday until 8 p.m. 780-0700. rosecontemporary.com.