A treasure hunt artfully designed
By Cate McQuaid, Globe Correspondent, 2/15/2001

Gallery Bershad is a gallery and an architectural
design firm, so its latest show, ''Schematically Inclined,'' is a perfect
fit: art that refers to the language of design. The show is ambitious, with
more than 70 works by 15 artists, tackling the subject matter from a
variety of angles. The gallery itself is lovely and open, but in the past,
exhibits have spilled outside that ideal viewing space into the offices
beyond - sometimes to the detriment of the work. Not this time; the gallery
uses its own schema to install the show: a thick, blue dotted line on the
floor that leads the viewer from piece to piece. The device transforms the
experience from an exhibition into a treasure hunt. Certain artists take
this same tack with their work. They play with the viewer's expectation of
the space. Anna Shapiro's ''Tongue,'' for instance, is white plaster,
sticking right out of a pillar in the middle of the gallery. ''Listen'' (in
the bathroom) has two ears sprouting from the white wall, joined discreetly
together by a thread. Susan Kriofsky's untitled sliver of etched glass only
looks like a sliver: It's 2 feet long, but embedded in the wall so we only
see one small edge. Yet we're drawn to peer into it, into a dark-green
forever scratched with fine neon-green lines. Some artists use schemata
that look lifted straight from a blueprint. Marty Epp was trained in
architectural drafting; her multimedia paintings have the outlined
geometries indicating three-dimensional structures hovering over thickly
painted grounds, making an unlikely combination of crisp and sensuous,
plotted out and organic. Jennifer Perry draws architectural structures on
paper with pinpricks, then threads human hair into the holes, shading in
the walls of her buildings with fine strands. As with Epp, Perry's work
marries extremes: precision with the chaos and helplessness of a bad hair
day. Schematic drawing comes to life in A.M. Lilly's kinetic sculptures.
Built from metal rods and hinges, they have the spare look of an inventor's
drawing. If you turn a crank, rods lift and twirl and the structure
changes, lifted by its own motion. Donna Veverka's cast concrete sculptures
are small, simple buildings; gaze down on one and you feel like a giant
towering over the Parthenon.
Morgan Cohen examines space we take for
granted. He photographs edges and corners where walls meet ceiling, and
prints them in color. They're largely white, as quiet and calming as a
snow-covered field, with soft, monochromatic shadows that look bruised
along the clean lines of the corners.
''Schematically Designed'' includes
two installations because installations transform spaces into art.
Unfortunately, one was on the fritz when I visited and the other had been
tampered with at the opening reception, in spite of a ''do not touch''
sign. Also, there's too much work to fit comfortably into the space. Still,
most of that work is fresh and original. Daringly retro Russell Roberts's
abstract paintings at the Sherman Gallery at Boston University feel retro,
like a throwback to the heyday of abstract expressionism. There's a
derring-do to the way this painter handles his paint, a defiance to the way
he asserts forms onto his canvas that recalls the manly paintings of de
Kooning. The more spare he is, the more he holds back from aggression in
his paint application and lets his material do its own work, the better he
is. I prefer his works on paper covered with shifting, translucent washes
occasionally anchored by darker blots of paint, to the paintings, which
feel more claustrophobic with heavy forms colliding into one another.
''Untitled (Brk. Sm. Y-B, Bl),'' a work on paper, shows a T-shaped wash of
amber pinned with darker smudges and interrupted by a hard, crayon streak
of orange. A soft blue haze floats below. The contrasting densities of each
color entice the viewer into the piece. Roberts has a good grip on the
possibilities of abstract expressionism. He might benefit by slightly
loosening that grip. Elegantly abstract Cambridge painter Johanna
Winter-Harper has a small, elegant show at the Sacramento Street Gallery.
Her grid-based abstract paintings pit stringent form against wily content.
She pushes at the edges of her grids with paint, overrunning boundaries
without completely violating them. In places the paint is thick, slathered
on, and in others it's quite thin, and that contrast appeals. A small,
square painting features a field of warm, buttery yellow, drawn across near
the center by threads of red, creating a center band she fills in with
glowing brown. The yellow paint is thicker than the brown, through which
you can see the weave of the canvas. The elements are distinct, but yellow
verges sweetly over into the brown. These paintings feel deliberate and
warm; you can read the artist's intellect in them, and her patience.

This story ran on page 9 of the Boston Globe on 2/15/2001.
Copyright 2001 Globe Newspaper Company.

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