Sunday, August 8, 2010

2 + 2 = "Pretty"

"The Place You Made to Find One Another" opened last night at U-turn Art Space (2159 Central Avenue, Brighton neighborhood in Cincinnati), and runs through August 28, 2010. It's one of those shows that casts a magic spell over you. "Pretty" is a stupid word, but that's what came into my head as soon as I walked into the space. But "pretty" in a more broken and specific way -- like the "pretty" Joseph Cornell finds and worships in vacant hotel rooms, or the delicate gritty "pretty" Carson McCullers discovers in The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter. Each piece sings a little off-key, but when you see the exhibit all in one walk-through you have the sense that "off-key" is exactly where beauty and absurdity meet, where sadness finds a place to laugh.

Eric Ruschman's work has a polished, precise tenderness to it, channeling pure feeling through a minimalist aesthetic that doesn't come off as minimal as much as carefully self-contained. This carefulness carries a lot of weight in pieces like "And Since You Can't Be a Fox in a Foxhole" and "This Is a Different Kind of Love Song," and allows you to luxuriate in what's there and what's not there. The colors evoke childhood simplcity, but the pieces themselves have a sophistication and mystery, with imagery that provides clues while also allowing you the benefit of the doubt. My favorite work by Ruschman is called "I Know, I'm Worried Too," a round wood shiny-surfaced table with cute animal knick-knacks arranged on it. What might have been a Jeff-Koons pastiche somehow becomes more of a Cornell ice-dance, a nostalgic little trip into what unnecessary objects can do to you if you look at them long enough, if you truly try to understand them.

Patricia Murphy has a more broken sense of "pretty." Her sculptures and paintings in the show feel as if they have been washed ashore, while Ruschman's pieces reached dry land via cruise-ship. In "Knot" and "Partly Because It's Easier on You," she uses abandoned boards and objects in arrangements that defy meaning while creating it. The pink knot seems to be an afterthought but also somehow predetermined, and the blank board with a yellow rectangle almost complete the puzzle, but then again it's not a puzzle we're looking at: it's more like a William Carlos Williams poem, all perfect and slight and weird. "Partly..." has that same cooked-down murmur to it, a poetry that climbs a ladder into itself. "Rush Beyond Silver Silence" seems like Murphy's answer to Ruschman's "I Know, I'm Worried Too." (It's also my favorite work by Murphy.) A left-behind nightstand with a small pillow with a ceramic bear on it, some dreamy wrinkled photos stuck to the sides of the nightstand with silver tape, "I Know" is lifted off the floor by an arrangement of naked wooden boards. As a whole, this piece has the fever of an intense memory you feel before you remember.

I kept thinking about Joseph Cornell the whole time I was at the show. Cornell said once that the shadowboxes he made, filled with nostalgic arrangements of trinkets, were poetic theaters, settings he created to transform childhood pastimes into moments that can't be lost anymore. Both Ruschman and Murphy create art in that vein; they seem to be searching for places and sensations that have somehow been lost. They are slowly recovering these scenes and feelings piece by piece.

Pictured above, top to bottom: Patricia Murphy, "Partly Because It Is Easier on You," aluminum dust, boards, broken ceramic horse. latex and spray paint. Patricia Murphy, "Knot," acrylic paint, found board, non-adhesive flagging tape. Eric Ruschman, "And Since You Can't Be a Fox in a Foxhole?" oil and enamel on MDF panel. Eric Ruschman, "This Is a Different Kind of Love Song," enamel on MDF panels.