Not everyone gets to have the experience of going topless at the beach. This summer however, thanks to Brent Birnbaum and Jenni Crain, anyone with an interest in contemporary art can head to Rockaway Beach and stop by Topless Gallery. The gallery is located a stones throw away from the ocean and still has the five foot mark on the walls in the back room, proof of the massive flooding that overtook the shores of Rockaway Beach during Hurricane Sandy in 2013. Having taken over a former optician’s office, on the right summer day, the gallery is flooded with light and a shadow grid from high arched, pane windows. As a temporary or rather seasonal space, they have an impressive program and scheduled exhibitions which will occur throughout the duration of the summer. The most recent exhibition was titled A Sphinx Has Lain Down Next To Me, a two person show featuring the work of Paul DeMuro and Scott Gelber. It was on view from July 5th through the 20th, 2014.
Not overwhelming the very specific interior architecture of the gallery, Birnbaum and Crain selected two paintings from Paul DeMuro and one, unique, video installation by Scott Gelber. The works by both artists somehow seemed perfect for the beach. DeMuro’s paintings were ripe with mysteriously tempered humanity, both joyous and simultaneously dark. The specific blue he uses in “Twilight” and “Faces”, both 2014, is reminiscent of the sun sparkled water just two blocks away. There is an aesthetic simplicity that is very readable, communicating in a rather quick and non-judgmental way, not placing high expectations on the viewer, but rather feeding them with simple shapes and recognizable imagery. Faces, in outlined silhouette peer from the two-dimensional yet textured surface. They are naïve, alien and familiar all at the same time, frozen in a moment captured or imagined. Outside the frame, the faces appear to wash away, as ghosts or castaways. DeMuro uses intricate painted patterns to define the contoured space within the realm of and boundaries of the canvas. In “Twilight” butterflies flutter in a particular stillness, throughout the space. Tulips can be identified as occupying the top and bottom frames. Even with these objects, used similarly as the blank staring faces, the artist gives us the freedom to regard or disregard these forms as they are used in a way that speaks to painting and drawing in a more direct way than that of narrative story telling. A butterfly in theory, could in the context of a painting be as dense as an automobile or as light as a feather. The works are layered, worked and reworked. A flat surface area has multiple possibilities and if an artist is focusing almost entirely on paint, the representation of the subject can be merged with the surface quality and palette choices. DeMuro’s mark making is laborious and dense, paint being the vehicle used at the inception of a thought.
Tonally similar, both in aesthetics and somewhat melancholic viewpoint, Scott Gelber’s video installation UVHS, 2012, combines digital animation shown on a flat screen TV and floor projection along with a basketball hoop. A short, yet transfixing loop video plays on the flat screen, while a video from a hanging projector was shown on the floor in front of the screen and aligned with the placement of a brightly colored basketball hoop. The piece is both postapocalyptic and calming as well, emphasized by the soft instrumental soundtrack. The dynamic yet abstracted narrative is somewhat reminiscent of works by AES+F and Marco Brambilla and could almost be considered a merging of the two . Brambilla has a video installation in the elevator of The Standard Hotel (Civilization, takes riders on a journey to heaven or hell) in the Meatpacking District and AES+F represented Russia in the 2007 Biennale di Venezia, both are internationally known. Gelber is from Dallas and recently relocated to New York. UVHS engulfs viewers with the proposed depth of the work on the flat screen and the projected shape on the floor, the same as one might expect to find below a basketball hoop, but through the changing light patterns, the shape is reminiscent of the windows of the gallery, arched and inviting. Aware of the present, he combines religious and pedantic imagery with what is commonly found in Twitter and Instagram, yes, the hashtag. #uncannyvalleyhighschool
The next exhibition at Topless Gallery, When The Floods Slit The Hills, opens today, Saturday, July 26th from 6-8 on 90th Street and Rockaway Boulevard. For more information please visit their website, here.