The Long Run at SPACE | Community Profile | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

The Long Run at SPACE

Works by Devan Shimoyama, Emilie Stark-Menneg and others highlight this group painting show

Art by Emilie Stark-Menneg
Art by Emilie Stark-Menneg

The Long Run, currently on view at SPACE, gathers the works of seven artists in a show the gallery describes, not quite accurately, as consisting solely of paintings. The exhibition has been compiled by guest curator and local artist Brandon Boan, whose own works were recently seen at UnSmoke Systems as part of the 181 Collective. The Long Run is intriguing not only on the basis of individual works, but through the eclecticism of the collection as a whole.

Jason LaCroix contributes four large-scale pieces, square canvases that bring vitality to geometry. Shapes arranged in patterns are enlivened by color; they’re kinetic and equivocal, their movement and motion shifting as the viewer does, redefining themselves each time the concentration upon them is altered, their possibility seeming unlimited. LaCroix captivates with mathematical precision and a regulation that provides a playground for commotion. 

Moving through the gallery to the next artist, LaCroix’s sharp edges and rigid order give way to an aesthetic execution nearly their polar opposite. Emilie Stark-Menneg’s softly muted blurs are lines not drawn but blended into hazy oblivion. Portraits of contemporary Americans engage through the fondness with which they are rendered, be the subjects Rocket Pop-hued patriots, rainbow-striped Pride paraders or Wimbledon champions. Focus is filtered, but not diluted; faces are ingenuous and features indistinct, yet each individual brims with personality affectionately rendered. We experience LaCroix’s pieces as witnesses from outside; we feel Stark-Menneg’s by being pulled within.

Commanding their own room within the gallery, and every bit of our attention, are three spectacular pieces by Devan Shimoyama. Glittery and treacherous, these self-portraits are ferocious and fabulous, filled to the top with lots and lots of extra: silk flowers, silver sequins, shimmering purples and vibrating orange. The subjects are marvelous and full of glory, even with tears (crystalline, of course) falling, or while wrestling with (sparkling) serpents. They are a reminder to claim our space and to refuse smallness and silence when it’s thrust upon us, opting to be big and loud instead. Shimoyama has chosen to shout himself from the rooftops, and we want to raise our voice as well, and it is good.

Thad Kellstadt offers whimsical constructions of brightly painted wooden pieces, set upon equally colorful frameworks. They’re evocative of shelves full of unidentifiable yet intriguing toys. Some are clearly figural; others resemble dioramas of theatrical or film sets, plays likely to be absurdist and movies surely arthouse; a few seem to belong to a charmingly abstract dollhouse. The desire to take them down and play is almost irresistible.

Paul Mullins brings large collage-like works jumbling isolated snippets of body parts, predominantly facial features and extremities — mouths, noses, arms, hands. Grins often reveal missing or jumbled teeth, fingers may be tattooed; both often hold cigarettes. There are some feminine parts here or there, but most are clearly male, and all are white. There’s also a dog, and he seems to be wearing rabbit ears. It’s a whole lot to look at and a whole lot to take in, and something is clearly being said here, but one can’t quite hear what it is.  

The overall impression given by this exhibition is that of a fine example of a group show that gathers a few works each from a handful of diverse artists working in directions as distinct as they are satisfying. That’s satisfying in its own right, and pleasing, and quite enough; we can look at this person’s work over here and muse upon it and think our thoughts as we will, then mosey on to the next batch and do the same. We don’t need more.

But there’s a description that the gallery gives of this exhibition, uncredited but presumably written by the curator, that attempts to force a connection upon them where one is neither necessary nor desired. It says that these works are purposed “through cultural sampling, mathematical amalgamations, and hybridized abstraction” and that they “present a working duration that attempts to respond to the surface of things.” I have been trying to figure out what the fuck this means for an embarrassingly long time now, and I have to admit, not proudly, that I am at a complete loss. These pieces stand just fine by themselves, thank you very much, and do so without being lumped together under the banner of responding to “the surface of things.” Enjoy them as they are, because they deserve it.

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