Friday, May 22, 2015

and a non-review grappling with my incapacity to evaluate "Luminous" at Kai Lin

“Luminous,” at Kai Lin through June 12, is a show I have not reviewed and am not sure I could review.

I should emphasize that this does not mean I think it is a bad show. I think elements of it are excellent, and all of it is very much worth seeing. My ambivalence prohibits a thumbs-up/thumbs-down judgment, which traditionally is what reviews are supposed to deliver.

Looking at Felicia Feaster’s excellently analytical review ( ) I see that she appreciates the show’s aesthetic but isn’t uncritical of the show’s overall resemblance to children’s book illustrations featuring animal allegories, plus its downside of being dominated by works in which the strength of pattern replaces or overwhelms message. Some of this is indisputably true, but in a complicated way.

I’m not sure that Feaster gives full credit to the differently mythic dimensions of Sam Parker, who in this work sometimes seems to be competing with Joe Tsambiras for the title of Most Inventively Witty Alteration of a Mythic Archetype.

More often, though, the transmutations are just plain chilling, and I am at a loss to discuss them even on the most formalist of levels. If this is pattern-and-decoration revisited, it’s pattern-and-decoration with a difference. In fact, the figuration is so startling in conjunction with the patterning that I wish I were capable of explicating the effect, which I am not.

These are not literal animal figures, but kin to ones we see in contemporary books from illustrators in India (although its subject matter is mythico-dendrological rather than zoological, The Night Life of Trees comes to mind).

Greg Noblin’s animals are likewise deliteralized in spite of their photocollage accuracy, and more appealing on a heartstrings-pulling level of whimsy, with the tone set somewhere between humor and pathos.

But I would be hard pressed to try to describe the details of all that, much less evaluate it. I’m not emotionally committed to it, which does not mean that a large number of people will not be, and their commitment will be both valid and defensible in analytical terms.

I like some of the elements of Art Nouveau and of its Symbolist and Decadent offshoots, and Lela Brunet semi-replicates some of their better effects with her portrayals of “modern-day goddesses.”
Like Parker, Brunet works from mythico-intuitive grounds, assigning specific divine natures after the fact to the creatures her unconscious sense of color and proportion has summoned forth. There are stylistic aspects of this body of work to which I don’t respond well, but it would take so much effort to unpack the visual and social cues giving rise to my responses that I am unable to write anything intelligible about that part of the problem. I do like some of the elements that are less beholden to Odilon Redon or Vienna 1900, I have mixed emotions about some of the rendering, and some of the juxtapositions or outright collisions of styles and genres I don’t like at all, but I am not prepared to declare any of it aesthetically invalid.

Hence I am increasingly given to writing non-reviews that simply acknowledge things’ existence, and occasionally to celebrating some of the aspects I particularly appreciate without making claims regarding them beyond my delight at a few things that happen in this particular artwork or this exhibition. Shows that do not lend themselves well to this approach, and they are many, are likely not to be written about at all on the Counterforces blog.

People have until June 12 to decide for themselves whether they think “Luminous” is their idea of a good show. It is a show worth spending time with en route to making an informed aesthetic judgment, but it is a show that persons with a low tolerance for fantasy will not wish to visit long enough to make that informed judgment. If you do not like this sort of thing, then this is the sort of thing you will not like.

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