The four young artists who run kijidome, an alternative space on the first floor of an artists studio building in the South End, hope to fill a niche in the Boston art world.
"We all felt Boston has a few great galleries and a great institutional scene, but there's less on the bottom rung," says painter Sean Downey, who opened the small gallery earlier this month, along with partners Carlos Jiménez Cahua, Lucy Kim, and Susan Metrican.
In the spirit of the bottom rung, the kijidome artists have no expectation of making money.
"We can chip in on the space, and lose a bit of money each month to do things we want to do," Downey says. "We don't want to have to become gallerists."
Their first show gets them off to a promising start. The artists in it are established pros. "S01E01" — the title borrows the shorthand for a television series' pilot episode — features artists who make their studio process part of their subject matter. But that theme seems incidental. Most of the carefully crafted art has a sense of out-of-control burgeoning.
Oliver Herring's "Areas for Action" videos document daylong performances he staged in 2010 with willing strangers at Meulensteen, a now defunct gallery in New York. Each day, Herring videotaped participants engaging in a different activity, such as spitting colored water at each other and all over the gallery, or being covered with glitter or phosphorescent paint.
The brilliantly edited videos apply a painterly attention to the lush materials. One, of the people spitting, harks back to the flung paint in a Jackson Pollock painting, but it's also a captivating experiment in social taboos and intimacy.
Painter Dennis Congdon makes stencils from elaborate pencil drawings, which he uses in his paintings. In "Untitled (pile)," he depicts a heap of paintings, some recognizable from art history and pop culture, but altered and cartoony. It might be a picture of his unconscious.
Elizabeth Riley's sculpture "Untitled City" careens from 3-D to 2-D, from photographic image to real thing, from nature to culture. It, too, is something of a heap — an old table from which spring flat, gaudy scraps of design and small video projections. Riley packs a lot of thinking into a party of a piece.
Degradation to delicacy
One of kijidome's founders, Susan Metrican, co-curated "Me Time" at Laconia Gallery with Nicholas Sullivan. Both are recent graduates of Massachusetts College of Art and Design. "Me Time" doesn't pack the punch "S01E01" does, but it has some intriguing art — including two Albrecht Dürer prints. The ego-driven theme seems especially nasty in Dürer's fierce "Cain Killing Abel."
The show pivots from degradation to delicacy; here's a sense, despite the 500-year-old Dürer pieces, that nothing will last. Lucy Kim (also of kijidome) offers a clever and disturbing "Jessie–Unfolded," for which she wrapped a mannequin in aluminum foil, painted a figure over it, and then unwrapped and flattened the foil. The figure, a fellow in blue briefs, consequently splays and bloats, and is broken up by shimmering unpainted patches.
Ted Mineo's "Note to Self" is a 6-foot-tall painting of a pencil that looks as if someone has bitten into it, but there's another world inside, blue and rocky. Metrican's "The Kiss" cheekily applies human action to a painting — two green canvases meet and pucker.
"Big Surf," Sullivan's line drawing in space, describes a Buddha's hand nearly joining at thumb and index finger. Just above, a smaller hand the shape of a computer cursor points at the space between the two. The piece glitters and seeps into frozen puddles at the bottom. It stands at the center of the show, and despite its digital reference, holds out hope for stillness and empty space as everything else seems to act, grow, and decay around it.
A delightful struggle
Two focused, succinct shows are up at Boston Sculptors Gallery. Laura Evans makes arrangements of several similar objects, which read like hieroglyphs. For "Characters" she bends and joins cardboard tubes, and sometimes wraps them in tape. Leaning against the wall, they look like so many dancers stretching at the barre before ballet class begins.
Her "Rune Fragments" series features tiny clay-like bits that looked like bleached small animal bones, knobby and curving. She mounts them on a gray wall in oblique little pictograms. In all these works, there's a sense of meaning in accumulation, and a delightful struggle to read that meaning, like trying to make sense of a letter in a different alphabet.
Jessica Straus takes the little wooden crates that clementines often come in as her chief material. The labels — red, blue, and white, or orange and blue — are cut up in the process and reassembled in frothy mosaics. These can have the same effect as Evans's pieces, of small components coalescing into something large, especially in "Ready and Waiting," an installation of sculptures on tiles made of labels.
Most of Straus's objects have a wonderful utilitarian feeling — "Darling Grenade," for instance, or "Darling Strainer." But the grenade sculpture's cheery colors undermine its dire implications, and the strainer appears stuffed to overflowing with blue and orange. Everything, indeed, is rendered useless, but elevated to metaphor.
At: Laconia Gallery,
433 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 17. (No phone) www.laconiagallery.com
Not Just One Thing
JESSICA STRAUS : Scrap!
At: Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Ave., through Nov. 10.
Cate McQuaid can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.