Consider the Oyster, Sometimes

The pleasure of a theme show lies in seeing how individual artists interpret the theme and in weighing one interpretation against another. Conceived and curated by Ingrid Dinter, this group exhibition is based on M.F.K. Fisher’s 1941 cookbook Consider the Oyster. Of the 50-plus works in the show, the best—with few exceptions—are those that make an effort to curtsy to the theme. Those artists who have an affinity with Fisher’s whimsy or sense of poetry are the most rewarding.

The exhibition opens with Dan McCleary’s straightforward portrait, “Man with a Pearl Earring.” It moves on rapidly to more emblematic images. In Nancy Lorenz’s pearlescent “Moongold Water,” swirling rivulets of mother of pearl wind down a panel covered with moon gold leaf, a luminous blend of gold, palladium and silver. That lustrous suggestion of water creates a mood that accords with the theme even though it remains implicit. Julia Condon brings to her motifs great sensitivity to the pictorial possibilities of opaline surfaces. Her “Mandala of Luminescent Transformation” is beautiful, its frosted iridescence conveying the spatial depth of a view through the Hubble telescope. At the same time, it conjures up the nucleus of an oyster.

Lance de Los Reyes offers a freestanding assemblage that more or less nods to the oyster as a bivalve organism. [That is the best I can do, being kindly.] One glass jug is upended atop another, hourglass-like; motor oil fills the bottom jug. Eva Faye has three petite portraits of half a shell from three Duxbury oysters. Each is subtly differentiated from the other, in contour and nucleus. Viewed together, they form an essay on visual variety within apparent uniformity.

Betty Tompkins and Kathy Rudin want you to know they have their hands in their pants. This, on the shaky assumption that yours are there, too. The title of Tompkins’ “Cunt Grid” series says it all. Images of female genitalia emerge from multiple impressions made with tiny rubber stamps and colored stamp inks. Great refinement of touch is wasted in the service of an indelicate sensibility. Rudin’s “Pearls of Wisdom,” a series of small digital prints, escapes delicacy altogether. If you want a shot of cheap underpants on a street stall and a sign advising “Eat More Pussy,” suggestively arranged with hot dogs impaled on a spit (a little hostility toward males, maybe?) with the Sacred Heart thrown in, you might cotton to this.

David Dupuis’ untitled entry is eerily affecting. Worked in graphite and colored pencil on paper, the near monochrome oyster shell breaks into a slight smile, meticulously collaged onto the shell. It earns a place among the disjointed dream images of early Surrealist collage. Joe Fyfe’s “Mercredi,” a standing assemblage of found wood and colored cloths, shows just how little it takes to turn nondescript things into something with a visual presence.

One of the most engaging works here is a collage by Billy Copley. His “Bag #12” is an enviable riot of transparency and geometry. Vivid swatches of ruled horizontal and vertical lines create a plaid patterning overlaid and interspersed with strata of torn rice papers. Not sure what it has to do with oysters but it is delightful. A well-chosen piece, this one relinquishes the cartoon references that tether his larger series of bag drawings to pop culture. It is jubilant testimony to the magic of color and line in sensitive hands.

“Consider the Oyster” at James Graham & Sons, 23 East 67 Street, 212.535.5767. Curated by Ingrid Dinter.


© 2010 Maureen Mullarkey

This review appeared first in CityArts, October 14, 2010.