Re-purposed: The Use of Everyday Materials in Contemporary Art at Emily Amy Gallery has a premise that is so sweeping, it sounds more like a major museum show than a four-artist exhibition at a single gallery. So it’s not surprising that it doesn’t entirely live up to the scope of its own billing.
The spacious gallery provides three of the four artists with rooms to themselves. Clayton Santiago’s resin-soaked constructions occupy the remaining walls. Sara Cole’s gouache, coffee and graphite works on paper are the most elegant of the group, amplified in part by the thoughtful restraint of their white mats and framing. Cole gives each sheet of paper a generous stain of coffee and adds the silhouetted contours of leaves, which interlock into wreath-like clusters. The result is a mediated vision of suspended shape and movement, like the surface of a pond. Cole’s strength — the step-by-step regularity of her method — might also be a limitation. Once she hits her note she doesn’t stray far from it, so the best of the pieces aren’t vastly different from the worst.
Will Corr’s painted reliefs fill the gallery’s back room. Corr combines tar paper, wood and paint to illustrate a menu of simple motifs: land, tree, water, boat. There are moments, as in “Cloud Climbing in Utopia,” when Corr’s more aggressive collage elements yield flickers of genuine surprise. Sherry Williams’ large unframed ink drawings have a melon and rust palette that delivers immediate visual impact. Her works borrow equally from Ralph Steadman’s controlled ink splattering and Man Ray’s pictograms, as when she imprints the paper with real objects such as as light bulbs and farm tools. Willams’ two best works, “Surface Horizon” and “Tension Release,” succeed because the works’ large scale allows for balance between the manic energy of the artist’s brushwork and the static force of the dark, imprinted shapes.
Upon reflection, it might be that the exhibition title itself is a feint. It’s true that the artists in Re-purposed use everyday materials in gently uncommon ways. But there’s no attempt to answer the more complex question as to why artists do this. Recruiting non-art materials for artistic service has always created a volatile marriage of art and life. For the Dadaists mentioned in the gallery press release, the incorporation of everyday objects served as a critical tool with which great assumptions might be toppled. It was radical and revolutionary.
Not so for the artists here. It could be argued that every work by every artist in the exhibition points toward a single purpose: the frictionless assimilation into the up-market domus. The subtext is that the wild re-purposing enacted by our artistic forefathers has now been fully domesticated. On purpose.