Art@Bay’s Best of 2012 – Best Gallery Exhibit

bestgalleryexhibit

The highly prized and sought after A@B Best of 2012 “Best Exhibit” Cyber-Trophy!

This post is second in Art@Bay’s Best of 2012 series – check out the introduction and pick for Best Museum Exhibit here.

I initially felt some reluctance releasing this installment because I felt a tad guilty for not having attended some exhibits (thus, I couldn’t appropriately include them).  After some consideration though, I’ve mustered some gumption: Likely I’ve attended more local art exhibits than anyone (save perhaps for Luis from Art Taco).  Anyhow, if you disagree with my pick, let me know in the comments section below – I’ll tell you why it didn’t make my cut.

Best Gallery Exhibit

Neil Bender: Purple Nurple – Tempus Projects

(left) Looks Like, oil and acrylic on canvas, 49" x 85 ", 2009-10 (right) A Habitable Ether, oil on canvas, 40" x 50", 2011-12

(left) Looks Like, oil and acrylic on canvas, 49″ x 85 “, 2009-10 (right) A Habitable Ether, oil on canvas, 40″ x 50”, 2011-12

Perhaps its natural a solo exhibit came out strongest – they have fewer variables than a group show.  Regardless, last February’s Neil Bender solo show at Tempus Projects impressed me most.

The exhibit was dominated by relatively large-scale paintings visually tied together by medium (oil on canvas) and a subtly similar palette.  The centerpiece of the show – the 88 x 120 in. My Daughter’s Overturned Bedroom – hung alone on the gallery’s west wall.

Bender’s composition and style reflect an awareness of the contemporary dialogue on art and painting’s place in it.  With the field of relevant painting (presumably) shrinking, good work is all the more exciting.  His choice of medium wasn’t a trivial one – the use of oil was ideal for the subject matter.  The somewhat painterly fleshy masses of the pieces recalled Rubenesque figures through a contemporary lens, a sort of baroque R. Crumb.

However, I’m not saying that his work was in any way frivolous.  Rather, Bender was able to convey the moral muddiness of some pretty heavy issues – objectification, sexual politics, gender roles.  His paintings resist being heavy-handed politically, instead according an appropriate complexity to the concepts they touch on.

Bender also managed to resist being heavy-handed with the shock and awe.  When dealing with issues such as sexuality, artists can get as adolescent as the rest of us.  It’s easier to take a lazy pointlessly raunchy route.  The nudity in Bender’s paintings is relatively understated and effective.  The pieces encourage a slow look in contrast with the facile shock and instant impression (then consequent forgetting) of immature work.

Really, Bender’s work in Purple Nurple had a conceptual depth that is not seen often enough in the Bay area.  Further, it was executed with a balanced hand both aesthetically and in process.

Honorable Mention:

Parallel Movements: Justin Nelson and Daniel Mrgan – C. Emerson Fine Arts

156671_10152131771580632_24261848_nThis past October CEFA presented a dual exhibit of work from two popular Bay area artists: Justin Nelson and Daniel Mrgan.  Both had exhibited a few times locally throughout the year.  However, this exhibit featured new work from both artists.  More importantly, it signaled a subtle but positive shift in each artist’s style.

Nelson and Mrgan both use an approach to their work that is easily liked.  While popular art can run the risk of becoming populist art, this exhibit caught the work of both artists maturing.  In their own ways, the new work from Nelson as well as Mrgan abstracted itself further from earlier pieces.  The art investigated similar concepts and processes, but definitely deeper and more effectively in Parallel Movements.

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