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Art Review: Slow Art


So how long does it take you to see an art show, anyway? Do you linger in front of each canvas, or do you jet through the exhibition with a tail wind? Since there’s no clock at a gallery presentation, you’re free to set your own pace. But if it’s a really engaging experience, the art has a way of establishing its own rhythm—and if you listen carefully, you may slip into time with the beat.

The participants in the “Slow Art” show at the Village West Gallery (331 Newark Avenue) have done quite a bit of thinking about time and speed and the peculiar velocity of perception. This lovely, temperate, occasionally apprehensive show introduces those reflections politely. That stands to reason: Slow art ought to be soft-spoken.

The artists approach the theme with the quiet reverence it deserves. Painter Anki King represents time as a dark substance, something slippery as oil, seeping through interlaced fingers at the end of a pair of frail and ghostly arms. In “Gather,” the painting that welcomes visitors to the gallery, time threatens to escape from the clutches of its possessor in a great black rush. Other works in the show cushion that same anxiety through repetition. Megan Klim’s dense folds of gauze, Patricia Cazorla and Nancy Salerme’s shaded, near-oceanic waves of blue ink, Jimbo Blachly’s strata of thin horizonal lines in watercolor, and co-curator and gallery owner Robinson Holloway’s elaborately decorated sofa: These artworks radiate diligence, accomplishment, time logged, a tough job well done. Meticulousness, they seem to suggest, is a response to the tick of the clock. If the artist can get properly lost in her task, she might be able to still those hands.

“Slow Art” asks the viewer to pause and reflect, respect the inner rhythms of the works on view, and indulge in the luxury of contemplation. But if you want to follow the call of these works and others like them, you’ll have to make an appointment to see the exhibition. The Village West Gallery—which is itself an elegant space and one that prompts quiet reflection—doubles as the ground floor of Robinson Holloway’s home. (Ms. Holloway’s cats are part of the permanent collection here.) It’s as big and bright as many of the dedicated exhibition spaces downtown, and it demonstrates again that anybody with the taste, a coherent aesthetic sensibility, and a few wide, white walls can put on a show worth seeing.

Holloway and her co-curator Diana Schmertz have attracted twenty artists to the “Slow Art” show, which will be on view until December 6. That’s a “JC Friday,” and the gallery will be open for a reception that night.

If you’re a Downtown resident or a rock fan, there’s a decent chance you’ve stumbled upon a bit of this exhibition already. Village West is just a stone’s throw from White Eagle Hall, and concertgoers waiting in line may have noticed David Baskin’s assortment of 160 oval-shaped containers in the gallery’s street-facing window. “Dove Bottles” turns the front of the house into a great abacus: The bottles are candy colored and easy to count, and if you surrender to the piece (recommended), you’re likely to find some intriguing patterns amidst the plastic. Like much of “Slow Art,” Baskin’s installation is a quiet charmer—it’s quirky and homespun, but it isn’t overly ingratiating, and it doesn’t lead with cleverness. The same might be said for Sharela Bonfield’s hand-embroidered “selfies” rendered on ten inch pieces of felt. These images of the artist, assembled stitch by sedulous stitch, glow with quotidian beauty.

Selfie by Sharela Bonfield

Dove Bottles by David Baskin

They’re also a commentary on the immediacy of digital reproduction and a challenge to those who might call art-making a waste of time and energy. Yes, says Ms. Bonfield, I will indeed take three months to a year to capture my image in thread; you go ahead and settle for your crude and cold assembly of pixels. The artist’s subtle defiance is a figure for the entire show and a shorthand version of its theme. Some worthwhile effects can only be produced slowly, and certain powerfully expressive mediums should not be overlooked in the rush to make an immediate impression.

Other works in the show practically demand close reading. A painting like Alexis Duque’s stuffed and teetering “Truck” can’t be appreciated at a single glance. The artist has simply loaded too much detail onto the canvas: rooms upon rooms and houses upon houses like a trash-compacted Santorini. He’s given the viewer twisting staircases to navigate and windows to peer into and objects crammed into every corner, and he’s put the whole thing on a pair of wheels. Where is this rolling citadel headed, and who are its inhabitants? How fast is it traveling? Does it move at the speed of the viewer’s apprehension?

Slow art, by definition, lacks the urgency we’ve come to expect from modern visual entertainment, and it does run the risk of offering comfort at a time in history when nobody ought to be comfortable. Joshua Mintz’s “Untitled (Bunker),” a piece that’s simultaneously adorable and terrifying, plays with ideas of ease, intimacy, welcome, and the all-too-seductive power of relaxation. This sculpture is a tiny replica of a rumpled couch in suburban-den green, with cushions in a slept-on mess, and the seat sagging treacherously in the middle. There’s even a pair of well-worn miniature sneakers on the floor. Here is the sofa as the hungry eater of hours: a dangerous place, a lure to the tired and unwary.

My favorite piece in the show confronts the notion of misspent time head on. On a rough sheet of cotton and wool paper, Jeanne Heifetz has drawn a partial globe of small interlocking quadrilateral shapes, each one distinguished from its immediate neighbors by minute differences in ink color and shading. It’s all gorgeous and painstaking and viewed from one uncharitable angle completely purposeless. She’s named her work Mottainai after the famous Japanese admonition against waste. Certainly it is impractical to spend our time like this—brightening the patterns on the sofa upholstery in house paint, folding and gluing gauze, crosshatching little squares on canvases, assembling hundreds of colored plastic bottles in a Newark Avenue window. But as Anki King’s painting demonstrates, the minutes are going to slip through our fingers no matter how tightly we try to hold them. How better to spend them than in the pursuit of beauty?

Header: Untitled (Bunker) by Joshua Mintz