First Friday reviews, April 2014 

click to enlarge Anila Quayyum Agha, "Imagined City III (detail)"
  • Anila Quayyum Agha, "Imagined City III (detail)"

Quicksand: Landscape of the Feminine by Anila Quayyum Agha
Gallery 924 at the Arts Council through April 25

★★★★ (out of 5)

If you paid a visit to the TINY II exhibit at Gallery 924 last December, you saw - but hopefully didn't bump into - Anila Quayyum Agha's installation "Unbearable Beauty," consisting of maybe a dozen hawthorn branches coated in acrylic, sticking out of the wall. There's nothing tiny about what this installation has grown into - a whole forest of honey locust thorns painted white - sticking out of the wall, entitled "Murmuration." How willing are you, this installation seems to ask, to indulge your curiosity and engage with such a work of art?

But the other work on display isn't quite so prickly. Her collaged drawings, which blend embroidery and textiles - crafts that are traditionally the province of women - might just inspire contemplation of the place of the feminine in art.


click to enlarge Crystal France, "Conjoined"
  • Crystal France, "Conjoined"

Herron School of Art and Design Senior Thesis Exhibition
Works by Crystal France and Evan Hauser
Harrison Center for the Arts through April 25

★★★★

Crystal France is a skilled painter who works with a variety of materials - oils, encaustic on paper, pencil on Dura-lar - all in service of self-portraiture. And while those cross-media explorations pay off in this exhibition, it was a traditional painting (oil on canvas) that had the biggest impact for me: "Conjoined," which portrays France and her sister - identical twins - joined at the head.

The sculptor Evan Hauser, who also works confidently across a variety of media, focuses more on childhood dreams than France's adolescent self-perception. The ceramic "Child's Play" portrays a boy who may be innocently shooting off a slingshot, but is, in any case, standing on a missile. It's a treat to see such fresh and vibrant work by two artists who complement one another so perfectly.


click to enlarge Lauren Kussro, "In Aere Noctiluca"
  • Lauren Kussro, "In Aere Noctiluca"

Holy Ground: The Works of Lauren Kussro
Primary Gallery; closing reception April 18

★★★★

If you've ever seen Lauren Kussro at work ­ - say, intently cutting with an X-Acto knife - you've seen her achieving a certain calm in her precise work that takes cues from the repetitive patterns she finds in the natural world, in the forms of barnacles, flowers and roots. And that feeling of calm is, in part, what she hopes to give to viewers of her art.

click to enlarge Wayne Bertsch, "True Power of Woman"
  • Wayne Bertsch, "True Power of Woman"

"Through this exhibition, I offer the gift of a quiet space," Kussro says in her artist statement. Perhaps the most stunning works in this exhibition were the most functional; for instance, "In Aere Noctiluca," a hanging lamp that resembles a glowing jellyfish in the depths of the ocean.


Wonder Women: Wayne Bertsch
New Day Meadery through April 30

★★★★

Those of a certain age will remember the television series Wonder Woman, starring Linda Carter. Cartoonist, artist, and frequent NUVO contributor Wayne Bertsch (of "Barfly" and "Gadfly" fame) surely enough finds room for Carter in one of his paintings on display.

But he also portrays Rosa Parks, Hillary Clinton, and a host of other female heroes - the Virgin Mary among them - who equally deserve the title "Wonder Woman." Bertsch's ability to depict the human form in a seemingly endless variety of styles is also pretty damned wonderful.


click to enlarge Nat Russell, watercolor from the liner notes to The National Road (detail)
  • Nat Russell, watercolor from the liner notes to The National Road (detail)

Cities and the Field:
A Sonic Map of Indianapolis
by Stuart Hyatt
The National Road by Field Works
Harrison Center for the Arts through April 25

★★★★

Composer and artist Stuart Hyatt walked the entire length of Washington Street (aka The National Road), recording sounds in order to create the first sonic map of Indianapolis. That map is part of this exhibition, along with the accompanying album, The National Road, by Field Works, the band/art collaborative founded by Hyatt.

Themes of apocalyptic paranoia abound in the liner notes, which take cues from Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities. The show features the fifteen watercolors by Nathaniel Russell which illustrate the liner notes.

click to enlarge Todd Bracik, "Steel Tree with Bird"
  • Todd Bracik, "Steel Tree with Bird"

One watercolor accompanying a section of liner notes entitled "The Mediated World" refers to a device recently purchased by the Indiana State Police to track cell phone data and terrorism. (Keep your eye on the emperor, warn the liner notes.) It depicts transmitters and receivers, akin to what you might see on the top of a typical cell phone tower, against a black background.

This painting - like the surrounding exhibition - is an engaging combo of police state paranoia and Dr. Seussian playfulness.


Steel Trees by Todd Bracik
Athenaeum ArtSpace through April 30

★★★1/2

Bracik's 15 "Steel Trees," on display at the Athenaeum, incorporate a variety of items into their DNA, as it were; their trunks, fashioned from interweaving steel bars, remind me vaguely of the double helix form. You see bicycle frames as well as implements like saws and hammers incorporated into structures that sometimes resemble bird cages, sometimes monkey bars. A plush toy bird sits in one bird cage-esque tree, clueing us into the artist's sense of whimsy. Maybe, next time around, we'll see steel birds too?

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