Frank Egloff has for years used his careful painting technique to break open pictures laden with cultural cachet, fracturing composition and shaking up color in fashion shots and in photographs by John Deakin, Man Ray, and Eugène Atget. In his new show at Gallery Kayafas, Egloff directs his attention to the art market, and its sway on the very meaning of art.
Egloff has filled the walls with text. It’s frustrating if effective. I’d rather look at his paintings, but the art mirrors and elaborates on the text.
The show begins with writer Guy Treblay’s sidelong critique of those gathered, in their comfy high-end cashmeres, at a benefit for New York’s Drawing Center. The message: Rich people are indolent, self-indulgent, and unaware of their ridiculous excess.
Then there’s a diptych: “after Isaac Julien, 2014 (Playtime)/ of Cara Delevingne, February 2014 (after Adam Katz Sinding for W).”
The upper painting, washed in blue, is apparently borrowed from video artist Julien’s seven-channel installation, “PLAYTIME,” exhibited at a London gallery earlier this year. Wall text — the press release for that show — tells us that “PLAYTIME” investigates the role capital plays in the lives of seven characters.
Egloff’s painting, somber and wistful, depicts a woman in a maid’s outfit gazing out a skyscraper window. Another text, critic Omar Kholeif’s review of “PLAYTIME,” points out that Julien doesn’t acknowledge his own part, as a successful artist, in capital’s well-lubricated machinery.
Below that painting of an actress portraying a maid, there’s one of model Cara Delevingne, besieged by fans and papa-razzi as she gets into a car — one poser over another. As we ponder Egloff’s thicket of conceptual points, it’s easy to miss what a gorgeous painting this is, in clanging, metallic tones. Text from Delevigne’s Wikipedia page hangs beside it. That’s where my tolerance for reading began to pall.
Patrons and buyers have been a force throughout art history. That’s not new, although perhaps, with everything made so naked and available online, it’s more egregious. More compelling is Egloff’s idea that it’s impossible to be autonomous and self-reflective while you’re involved in the market.
Across from the Julien/Delevingne piece hangs “Pollock’s car, 10:15pm, Saturday, Aug 11, 1956 (Fireplace Road, The Springs, East Hampton, NY),” a spare painting of the overturned wreck that killed Jackson Pollock. Pollock was one of the first painters anointed king by the American art world. Granted, as an alcoholic, he had other problems. Still, the placement of this work as a coda to this show makes a clear statement: Fly high, and you will likely crash.
Finding beauty in nature
A. B. Miner’s intimate, delicate paintings and drawings, also at Kayafas, couldn’t feel further from Egloff’s, taking us in a great swoop from heady conceptual work to detailed images of bodies. Several accomplished self-portraits provide a way in; Miner, an assistant curator of contemporary art at the Museum of Fine Arts, is transgender, and some pieces record his transformation.
But the strongest work here depicts the hidden genitalia of butterflies, which he found at Harvard University’s Museum of Comparative Zoology, where Vladimir Nabokov was a curator.
“Comparative Masculinity: Freyeria trochylus (Nabokov’s #481),” paired with “Plebejus melissa (Nabokov’s #372),” in watercolor, gouache, and graphite, resemble orchids, with wisps of feathery yellow hair and alert prongs. Made with a sure, light hand, these works delineate how wild and different penises can be from one butterfly to the next, and what beauty there is even in the most covert places.
Susan Metrican’s paintings at Proof Gallery are off the wall in more ways than one. She explores three-dimensionality, and she does it with a goofy sense of humor.
Several cheeky pieces refer to clothing and body parts — my favorite of these is “Moon Diet,” a painting in the shape of a shirt front, with a pale white disk thrusting out from one side, the heart of this painting revealed. In “Carmen, Sarah & Cathy,” Metrican chops her canvas into a charming, paper-doll string of three pairs of jeans, painted indigo, with grommets along the waistlines.
A second body of work, paintings on scrolls, has little connection to the first, and feels out of place. In these works, such as “section of untitled scroll,” Metrican cuts her landscape into strata — sky, sea, rocky shore, plant life. With these pieces, she pushes toward an intriguing portrayal of space, but doesn’t quite arrive.
Outside and in touch
The landscapes of photographer Mary Lang, now up at Kingston Gallery, also explore space. For Lang, though, it’s about capturing the strange truth of a given moment. She’s a practicing Buddhist; in her photos, she strives for detailed awareness. Like any landscape, they reflect inner space.
“Train landscape, Model Train Museum, Balboa Park, San Diego, CA” is a delightful oddity, with its painted flats and tiny utility poles and trees. It shrinks and skews nature, and cleverly sets off the natural landscapes around it. The lyrical “Near Long Beach, WA” has us gazing through a rain-spattered window toward light pushing through clouds above. Whether gazing down a mountain or through a mist, Lang’s photos, full of curiosity and affection, depict a world of surprises.
Frank Egloff : more work
A. B. Miner : Bring to Light
At: Gallery Kayafas, 450 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 29. 617-482-0411, www.gallerykayafas.com
Susan Metrican : Sun’s Hideout
At: Proof Gallery, 516 East 2nd St., South Boston, through Dec. 6.
Mary Lang : Gazing Into Space
At: Kingston Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 30. 617-423-4113, www.kingstongallery.com
Cate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com.