Fresh; an Exhibition of Urban Contemporary Art, at the Target Gallery in the Torpedo Factory (105 Union St., Alexandria). The exhibit runs through May 31. The gallery is open Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m., Thursday evenings until 8 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday, noon – 6 p.m. For more details, call 703-838-4565 ext. 4, or visit www.torpedofactory.org/galleries/target.htm.
Fresh is a free wheeling take on the current state of urban contemporary art. At the moment, this genre occupies probably the widest range of styles and sub-genres. It fully encompasses graffiti work, pop art surrealism, lowbrow and skateboard art to name but a few of the subcategories. The 29 works comprising this show could only hope to offer a brief overview of such vast territory.
While a more focused grouping might produce a tighter show, the urban contemporary scene is more than anything marked by its “anything goes” youth vibe. Consequently, all the subgroups tend to play reasonably well with each other.
Target Gallery assigned the judging duties for Fresh to Clark Fox (a.k.a. Michael V. Clark as the National Gallery of Art lists his works in their collection), an early supporter of this genre. With 14 years of experience running MOCA D.C., back when it was an alternative art space, you couldn’t ask for a better local judge.
Virginia artist Gabriel Pons has a spray painted collage piece that reminds one of Shepard Fairey’s handmade images (as opposed to Fairey’s silk screened posters). The two-headed depiction of a girl dancing, titled “My Baby Wants to Rock and Roll #3,” has a natural sense of motion and time about it. Her flailing red hair seems to be both licks of flame and a dancing hoard of arm-waving teens.
Maryland artist Becky Slemmons gives us a decidedly Munch-like take on a girl recoiling in fear at the visitation of an angel beside her bed in the painting titled, “The White Painting.”
One of the most involved and highest quality works here is Stephen Barnwell’s (N.Y.) 100 share stock certificate for American Excess. An unwilling Uncle Sam finds himself strapped to the side of an oil derrick. An engraved tax stamp affixed to the stock certificate depicts a Cadillac Escalade “SUV,” defined as Socially Unacceptable Vehicle. Some of us thought as much way back when the SUV craze began.
My favorite piece here is a charcoal drawing by Chris Kienke (Ga.) titled, “Bodyguards.” At first take, the two provocatively dressed females wielding military-grade arms seem to be functioning in the Gurl Power mode. We’re all used to seeing men behave this way, but no matter how alluring we find the “bad girl” model, we still find this kind of behavior a tad jolting from the distaff half.
At first the image seems to be a female spin on the bank robbery film “Reservoir Dogs.” But those pig heads aren’t masks… these chicks are pig headed. Which suddenly becomes a whole different program. Are these female chauvinist pigs?
Who are the bodyguards? The women, their pig heads, or the guns? Why do we find scantily clad females with smiling pig heads and toting giant bazooka like guns … approachable?
If these were men, we’d figure they were psychotic loony birds on the verge of wanton mayhem, and run as fast as we could. The general reaction to these women is anything but. At some point you have to wonder if Kienke isn’t showing us how female beauty and sexuality can mask a whole host of destructive and anti-social behaviors.
Devoid of any contextual surrounding, the viewer can’t definitively say what in the world these two are up to. All we can say is they’re sexy, and as long as they’re toting hardware like that, they’re capable of doing almost unlimited amounts of damage. Then again, love is sort of like that as well. When you get involved with someone you are in effect trusting them with your life, your sanity and all your worldly possessions. We sometimes treat it all as frivolous, but love can be deadly serious business to be sure. And as we all know, things don’t always work out as planned. “Bodyguards” is one of those great pieces of art that would keep you entertained for years, no matter how many times you looked at it.