Mike Elder’s Eye Level Art galleries have been busy this year, hosting movie screenings, dance parties, and fashion shows. It would be easy for the art itself to get lost in the heady spin generated by all of these social events, which, by the way, help pay the hefty rent on Elder’s Spring Street and Heriot Street locations. So it was refreshing to see the focus back on artists for The Debutante Show, a showcase of 18 young artists at Eye Level’s 103 Gallery on Spring Street. (Of the 100 or so works on display for the one-off show, a third will be moved to ELA’s warehouse gallery where viewings will be by appointment only.)
Guest curator/painter Anson Cyr has aimed for quantity, not quality with this exhibition. The idea here is to show the sheer breadth of the artists’ works, rather than selecting a few of their best pieces. Although most of the contributors are unknown, they already have a body of material to show. The results are understandably variable, but there are several good pieces that make this exhibition worthwhile.
Either by accident or design, the theme of “old and new” runs through the show. Amanda Downey paints modern, illustrative images on elevator schematics, surrounding mutant cats with a cradle of numbers and grids. As with many of her fellow participants, Downey’s ideas are stronger than her art. “Soft Corn” shows a scaled-down, curvy car parked on a scantily clad girl, a comment on the way sex is used to sell automobiles. In “Trippin or Not,” a car is melded with a sea creature, with marine fins instead of chrome ones. But the art seems rushed in places, as if Downey was dashing her ideas down on paper before she lost the spark.
Laurel Black also has a penchant for natural subjects. Some of her animal art would be snapped up at SEWE. She also shows that she can handle portraits (there’s a full color, breezy painting of a girl) and still lifes (“Teaset,” oil on wood). Labanna Bly, daughter of artists West and Mary Edna Fraser, provides a fragile-looking installation called “Interactive Alter.” She’s linked a bizarre selection of ancient and modern objects to make a Dia de los Muertos-type shrine. She’s used a Transformers helmet as the basis for a mirror-browed skull, wired to an amplifier. Dusty test tubes are racked above, and shells are lined up on the floor. The effect is a dark, mysterious perversion of commonplace technology.
Although the definition of “debutantes” refers to young women, there are plenty of guys represented here as well. Matt Bowers is one of the best known artists involved; he’s been a staple of the underground scene for years. However, his “Modern Artifacts” series is different from anything we’ve seen from him before. He connects manufactured items with natural ones, and his assemblage and found objects include “Serial Port and Preserved Pine Specimen” and “Intact USB Drive and Fly.” The art isn’t beautiful, but it is thought-provoking.
The old-versus-new motif recurs in Nate Phelps’ circuitry-like abstract paintings, Shelley Smith’s use of wallpaper designs and newspaper ads in her work, and Trever Webster’s dripping black abstracts on packed backgrounds. Also of note are Conrad Guevara’s sculptures made of yarn, batting, and wood; Tess Thomas’ homeless plaster and acrylic mannequins, surrounded by beer cans, with one hobo gagged with duct tape; and Timothy Pakron’s fleshy “Bondage” (oil on canvas), inspired by gay S&M ads on Craigslist.
The new kids — many of them fresh out of college — aren’t ready to take over for the old guard yet, but their art is imbued with an imaginative, playful energy, making this a successful introduction to their work. After all, the whole point of a debutante ball is to make a memorable first impression.