Leave the Theory at the Door! Ethan Pettit Contemporary

bent arm violin ken butler

“Bent Arm Violin” by Ken Butler

By William Allen

This group show, called “Wackadoodle,” thumbs its nose at highbrow irony and aesthetics, with seven artists steeped in the traditions of North Brooklyn (conceptual art, action painting, and sculptural collage). By design there is no theme, only fresh, bright painting, drawing, sculptures, video art, and prints.

The show features tiny TV sets with noisy bursts of expletives, from Henry G. Sanchez, evoking personal, voyeuristic leanings, a novel twist from this political and community-based artist.

Eva Schicker shows large Rococo-style, squiggly angel-like drawings that sprawl over Arches paper (the show’s title may come from her manic doodling). Three pint-sized paintings show us her serious side, with bits of text to say that poetry is in the air. A quick peek in print files reveals some geometric, meditative works on black that make me think Brice Marden.

Gili Levy has a thing or two on deKooning. By way of local action painters Chris Martin, James Harrison, and master-primitive modernist Alfred Jensen, she flaunts abstract expressionist practice with Brooklyn tints and dynamism. Vibrant cobalt blues, cerulean greens take on fleshy pink where bodies in motion float down stairwells.

Another non-objective painter is Alkemikal Sohsu, participating in the Brooklyn conversation from Katmandu. His organic work is studious, wildly cheerful, optically frazzled, while his prints, toned down, explore convergences of sines and cosines in fractal portraits of brainiacs like Leroy Neiman and Salvator Dalí.

Robert Egert’s biomorphic, blue chalk drawings took me by surprise – full of magma energy, wit, and speculations on the body, on science, on nature mimicking art. His images are Darwin’s dreams, Philip Guston’s party-jokes, or Frida Kahlo’s sighs of grief. They hold underworlds of swirly vessels, Klein bottles (non-orientable, mathematical surfaces), slaughterhouse slurry turned into bone meal, and pumping diastolic hearts. While classically beautiful, they shocked me to subservience – I was suddenly alone, at 30,000 feet, where I could hear a pin drop.

Ken Butler, physicist-poet-sculptor-harmonist lends several musical objects to the mix. Sound fairly pours out of them as they stand static mounted to the wall, resting in inertia, waiting for Cage to unleash a hundred cadenzas from a bent prosthetic arm, a praying mantis music stand, embodiments of made-up, backwards music that waits for the viewer to invoke it.

Jan Holthoff paints his way towards Knickerbocker Avenue from Dusseldorf, in the Romantic tradition of Neo Rauch and Mamma Andersson. Often working with monumental scale, here small works show picaresque figures in half- articulated moonscape, longing for something mystical, lost in a fiery midnight fog.

Is it unarticulated sound these artists share? Perhaps bewilderment, a manic cry for something more beyond the picture plane (or LED or viola fingerboard), an unheard utterance expressed in visual art?

They are zany doers and philosophers. But their thought is cast in cool and colorful objects, pleasing to the eye, generous to the conscience and the conscious. So please keep an ear to the ground and eye to the wall at Ethan’s place.

But once you’ve looked at the art and left, sit down and talk with friends, and ideas will unbundle all around you. The theory is here, it just hides behind the smarter sheen of well-made work. It’s just nice to look at—you can think about it later.


ethan pettit contemporary
119 Ingraham | Suite 312
Brooklyn, NY 11237

Comments

  1. Eva Schicker says

    Really nice to see a reference to James Harrison by William Allen, as James was a true mentor to so many North Brooklyn artists for so many years. James has become a kind of underground cult figure, known now only to a few. So it is especially insightful to read his name within this context. Thank you William for this great review.