“Works Well With Others” sounds like an assessment on a kindergartner’s report card, but it’s the title of conceptual artist John C Gonzalez’s show at Brown University’s David Winton Bell Gallery, because he builds his art upon ideas of collaboration and sharing.
Gonzalez dreamed up all the projects. His name is on the wall. That would make this a solo show. Still, the very idea of a solo exhibition flies in the face of his art. He names all of his collaborators on the labels; he couldn’t have made these works without them.
The art spotlights workers we often overlook: the service, retail, and manual laborers who keep institutions and commercial ventures running. Gonzalez’s work slyly calls out hoary notions about class, value, and authorship that many of us cling to because they hold fast our sense of where we belong in the order of things.
We want our waiters to serve us graciously and nearly invisibly. Conversely, we put artistic geniuses on pedestals, losing sight of the support structures and cultural contexts that foster them. What of service workers who bring creative brio to their jobs, and geniuses who are brittle and demanding?
Gonzalez enlisted Bel Terra Landscaping, the company that maintains the grounds around the university’s public art, to work with him on “Collaborative Garden,” an unlikely green space in the middle of the gallery. Stroll down the gravel path and enjoy the ferns, the fir tree, and the trickle of water down the small hill. Breathe in the loamy aromas of cypress mulch and moss: a bit of paradise indoors.
To craft the garden, Gonzalez relied on the expertise of Juan Reyes, Pamela Rodgers, Julin Sanchez, Philip Taylor, and Julin Vasquez.
Plunging into the thorny arena of authorship, the artist contracted with dozens of artists from companies in China that produce paintings on demand for “Oil Paintings Produced for Export.” The installation includes paintings of flowers made by unnamed Chinese artists, self-portraits, and swatches of their favorite color. He invited the artists to sign their works.
Some, it turns out, chose to remain somewhat anonymous. Gonzalez pressed Chinese values about work, creativity, and society through a Western filter. The result throws into relief the fuzzy edges between the individual and the group.
This artist gives us plenty to chew on, but even as he raises uncomfortable questions about labor, representation, and attribution, he extols the sparks and ties of collaboration, honoring everybody’s contribution. It’s a feel-good conceptual art show, which in itself is a feat.
An aesthetic of evasion
Painter Anthony Palocci Jr. has organized an ominous exhibition at Castledrone, the alternative space he runs with his partner, curator and educator Maggie Cavallo. Palocci arranges several smallish paintings to conjure a supercharged sense of evasion. The art puts us in pursuit, yet we can’t shake the feeling there’s something on our own trail.
Extreme close-ups make faces hard to discern; texture and pigment add veils of mystery; there’s a sense that someone has just left the picture. The eye skitters around the gallery, on edge.
It lands on Nat Meade’s terrific “Pole Smoke,” a man’s sunbaked face, all right angles, hard-edged, hot. He grips a short cigarette between his teeth. The painting’s sharpness pops us away and into Albert Gray’s lovely, low-rent “Permanent Vacation,” depicting an empty plastic lawn chair and table cut by long shadows and surrounded by grass. Take a deep breath into its cool emptiness, and wonder who was here, what happened.
Then launch across the gallery to Giordanne Salley’s “Secret Kiss”: The rough bark and clean verticals of a tree, brushes of pine needles, and hands coming around the trunk, wisps of plaid behind them. It’s a gorgeous painting, dense with textures and patterns, urgent with barely glimpsed passion.
There’s more in the show, works that are unsavory, hair-raising, and elusive, but also smart about paint and paintings. To see it, make an appointment: firstname.lastname@example.org, or go to the closing reception on June 7.
Examining the multiple personae immigrants take on, Mexican-born artist Salvador Jimènez-Flores crafts ceramic works from a mold he took of his own face. In the striking video “Camaléon,” in his show at Urbano Project, one morphs into the next.
The faces, which also hang on the wall, are monstrous, angelic and daunting, laced with references to myth and popular culture. The artist uses different clays, glazes, and firing techniques to add to the diversity. “Picante pero sabroso” refers to a green hot pepper, spicy but tasty; a streak of emerald green runs across the figure’s chest. The terra cotta “Flying Bandit,” with a mask and a florid mustache, deploys an old stereotype.
These soulful pieces outshine the artist’s more political art, which is less layered, such as “¡Libertad ahora! Free Oscar López Rivera,” an exhortation to release the Puerto Rican nationalist from federal prison. He’s been there for more than 30 years on charges that include seditious conspiracy; some consider him a political prisoner. The screenprint calls attention to López Rivera, but it raises no questions and offers no insight.
JOHN C GONZALEZ: Works Well With Others
At David Winton Bell Gallery, 64 College St., Providence, through June 12. 401-863-2932, www.brown.edu/bellgallery
NIGHTSHIFT 3: Casual Deviant
At Castledrone, 1476 River St., Hyde Park, through June 11. www.facebook.com/events/577990392368057/
SALVADOR JIMÈNEZ-FLORES: I Am Not Who You Think I Am
At Urbano Project, 29 Germania St., Jamaica Plain, through June 10. 617-983-1007, www.urbanoproject.orgCate McQuaid can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @cmcq.