Mysteries

September 4 - October 18, 2008

Stephen Wirtz Gallery announces the opening of Mysteries, a thematic exhibition curated by Melissa E. Feldman. On view will be works from the late sixties to the present by Vija Celmins, Anne Collier, Bruce Conner, Emilie Halpern, Wally Hedrick, Jamie Isenstein, Janice Kerbel, Karen Kilimnik, Gordon Moore, William Morehouse, Laurie Reid, Allen Ruppersberg, and Bill Viola. Their works appear as a series of enigmas or conundrums. A black-curtained room occupying a quarter of the main gallery, in which video works are continuously screened, sets the stage.

Adopting the methods of the spiritualist, the con-man, the magician, the detective, or the imposter, the artists in Mysteries aim to baffle and amuse while challenging the status quo. Though all are conceptually-based, their mediums and approaches range from traditional mimetic techniques such as illusionistic drawing to photography, collage, and performance-based work. Rooted in the everyday, conceptual art seems to deny such visual enticements; however, its banal subject matter should not preclude an attraction to the spectacular.

An example is Jamie Isenstein’s trompe l’oeil drawing of a library card, an exercise in obsolescence and absurdity. More portentious is Vija Celmins’s moorless yet perspectivally perfect rendering of the ocean’s active surface frozen at a particular moment. In Karen Kilimnik’s video work, The bluebird in the forest (2005), staged and real are relative concepts. Fairy-size dancing ballerinas (from actual stage footage) appear among elephantine tree trunks, flickering like fireflies in the dark wood.

Identity itself is one of the main mysteries here. For Bruce Conner, art is a form of disguise, while concealment is Wally Hedrick’s ploy. Conner preserves his anonymity behind false names and shifting styles, not to mention the countless found images from which he constructs his collages. Intermittently throughout his life Hedrick protested war– from Vietnam to Iraq–by covering up his existing paintings in black paint. Allen Ruppersberg makes himself the subject of investigation, inviting visitors to assemble an autobiographical, 1,000-piece wooden puzzle, Fishing is Fun (2005), and use its resulting image and literary references as clues. Janice Kerbel presents her invented characters (such as a human firefly), places (an uninhabited island available for time shares) and objects (a DIY closet for disappearing into) as genuine-looking ads, archival matter, and instructions. In a series of blind drawings, Laurie Reid experiments with spiritualism. Holding a fistful of color pencils, their points poised over the paper, Ouija-style, she meditates on her subject, allowing her mind and body to become a conduit steering the light movement across the paper. As in many of the works on view, trust–and suspicion—are an essential part of making and seeing these works.

Melissa Feldman is an independent curator, writer, and correspondent for Art in America, and is currently based in the Bay Area. Recent projects include “The Life and Times of Sarah McEneaney: Selected Paintings” at Mills College Art Museum and “Sampler” at Creative Growth Art Center, both in Oakland. A native New Yorker, Feldman previously worked as a curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, in Philadelphia, and as a freelancer in London.