Found objects have been a part of the artistic conversation at least since Marcel Duchamp, whose infamous "Fountain," a recycled urinal, debuted in 1917 to quite a stir. An artist using found objects must lift the material from mundane to metaphorical. "Pure Smoke Culture," a sharp, riveting group show at Anthony Greaney put together by artist Nick Kra-mer, spotlights work in which workaday stuff transcends trash without losing a grip on where it came from.
Sean Kennedy and Sarah Braman, will have work in the upcoming "PAINT THINGS: beyond the stretcher," opening later this month at the deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park. That exhibition addresses how painting is moving in a sculptural direction.
Kennedy paints on security grilles found in street-level city windows. He's a colorist. He coated the grilles — there are two here, both untitled — with a spray-on stucco texture, then painted them with warm tones shifting from gold to purple. They come alive as you walk by, or as the light changes. The works are gritty, as off-putting and steely as prison bars, yet the tones make them ethereal.
For "Night Drive," Braman has painted, a bit more gaudily, over a chunk torn from the shell of a camper, complete with mesh window. Here, too, the color — steamy fuchsia and blue, a dab of hot yellow — floods its kitschy support with new, passionate meaning.
Like a witch, Jedediah Caesar brews his art in a vat, tossing junk he finds on the street in with urethane, and letting it set before he cuts it up with a titanium saw. His untitled piece here hangs on the wall like a painting, and you can make out chunks of wood and curls of carpet trapped in the translucent brown urethane, like fossils in amber — the underbelly of the city, beautifully exposed.
Justin Beal's "Untitled (low shelf)" looks like black fabric stretched down and over a shelf — another riff on painting — but it's not fabric at all, it's cast rubber. As with all the work in "Pure Smoke Culture," you think you know what you're looking at, and then you don't. It's familiar, yet eerily fresh, vigorously twisting expectations about ordinary objects, and about art.
You might come out of David Curcio's coy, brooding, and funny exhibit, "I Wouldn't Worry About It" at Laconia Gallery, worrying. Curcio draws, stitches, and prints over paper that he ages by running it through a printing press. The works recall folk art and 19th-century needlework samplers, with decorative edges and patterning. Amid all that sweetness, Curcio throws in images of knives and razor blades, crying people and animals, arrays of pills, a lot of underwear-clad bottoms, and meandering and open-ended text.
Abraham Lincoln, the melancholy president, makes several appearances, as in "What Will Survive of Us Is Nothing," a double portrait of what appears to be a weeping Lincoln and Mary Todd Lincoln, surrounded by embroidered shackles in each corner. Above her head, the
sentiment: "When I was single dressed in silk so fine, now I am married go ragged all the time."
In a piece that eroticizes the power of an effective pharmaceutical, "Pro Re Nata (Hungry Like the Wolf)," a woman wearing nothing but a lab coat, bordered by pills, has text above her that reads "Mister, I am your connection." There's lament in these rich drawings, but there's also saucy delight, and beneath it all, Curcio gropes to make sense of how a world of suffering can be both funny and ennobling.
Independent curator Debra Olin has invited artists from the studios at Boston Center for the Arts to come into the Mills Gallery to work for "Process Goes Public: BCA Artist Studios Exhibition." It's a lively concept, and I enjoyed chatting with artists Ruth Ginsberg-Place and Robert Rovenolt, who were there when I stopped by. Rovenolt was re-creating street art he had recently seen in Havana, and Ginsberg-Place was assembling a hanging corridor of prints.
Pulling back the curtain on artists' processes allows viewers to witness ideas begin to come together, and to actively engage the artists. But that private, one-on-one experience in which a viewer imbibes a fully realized piece of art is gone. The onus is on the artist to explain it all — and that's just not the same. As a viewer, I love to know about what went into making a piece of artwork, but I'm not sure I have to see it.
On the other hand, I did enjoy wandering through some of the ad hoc studios, some of which felt as if they were backdrops for fully realized projects. Silvia López Chávez's puckish portraits of Chelsea residents, set up alongside factoids such as "Chelsea has the highest asthma rate in the state and 52 state-designated hazardous waste sites," is both engrossing and alarming. Beverly Sky's fabric collage installation exploring notions of the creation of the universe quite effectively engages the viewer to think about his or her own beliefs and throw them in the mix. But other spaces felt comparatively faint and unrealized. Of course, the show isn't over yet.
Pure Smoke Culture
At: Anthony Greaney,
450 Harrison Ave., through
Jan. 19. 617-482-0055, www.anthonygreaney.com
I Wouldn't Worry About It
At: Laconia Gallery,
433 Harrison Ave., through Jan. 13. 857-222-0333, www.jameshull.com
Process Goes Public: BCA Artist Studios Exhibition
At: Mills Gallery, Boston Center for the Arts,
551 Tremont St., through Feb. 3. 617-426-8835, www.bcaonline.org