With magical treasure maps, Stonehenge-like plinths and allusions to complex nonverbal systems, Crane Arts' PHASEscape, a spare show of mostly abstract works, suggests a place out of time.
The sculpture, video, prints and paintings—few in number but several with large impact—occupy the gallery's Grey Area, cavelike space with smoky gray walls, shade-covered windows and a bare minimum of light aimed at the works. But it's OK: Most of the works on view by five Tyler MFA candidates are primal in nature and even shamanistic, so they inhabit the hyper-dramatic room with ease.
In the middle of the room, like the brightest star in the galaxy, is Samantha Jones' installation of tall and hairy white plinths arranged together in a close circle. Skinny as camel legs and topped with what appear to be perhaps tiny towns for even tinier people, the grouping is Stonehenge-weird. It casts deep shadows, and as if to magnify its mystery and power, it has hanging above it a shiny reflective orb that hovers like the mothership in Close Encounters. Whatever this is about, the piece is captivating, from the shadows to the hovering orb to the white surfaces that look like curdled cake icing (probably plaster or resin).
Nearby and seemingly in conversation with Jones' piece, are three mixed-media paintings by Craig Rempfer that are full of beauty and ornate graphic moves. Like wild style graffiti as if practiced by the Mayans, Rempfer draws shapes and objects that are biomorphic and lines and shapes that repeat in an obsessive and almost ritualistic way. One black, white and gray work in which lines radiate out from a central knot and an “X” seems to mark the spot that could be a treasure map—or a warning map. Rempfer’s smaller turquoise, gray and black painting also uses an "X" motif but evokes the mapping of cell division in a petri dish rather than geographical mapping. These works have aboriginal energy and authority.
Erica Prince's diptych painting involves two cartoonlike kidney shaped windows on boxes. One kidney is white like an egg and the other looks transparent and shows a large number of the same boxes and same kidney shapes inside. Is the white kidney an egg, something innocent and pure, and the transparent kidney the mature, noninnocent and noisy and cluttered version? Whatever the meaning, the piece seems wrong for this show, as if a Tom and Jerry cartoon had invaded it.
On the other hand, Johnny Plastini's large intaglio print, which looks a little like a barn on its side with its roof sliced off, is a mystery that goes well. Titled "Gothic Cab Drivers," the piece, with three dark, hard-edged shapes separated by lots of white space, has little that's Gothic and even less that's taxilike. But there is great tension between the shapes and even greater mystery in some repeated white embossed dots that cut like bullet holes into each shape. The piece feels off-balance in an interesting way, and while it hardly seems playful, the work is a pre-verbal puzzle that is worth pondering.
Devin Kovach's video projection of a building under construction washes the room in pale moving light, and its audio of organ music casts a somber mood over everything. I wanted to be intrigued but this video and the photos of roughly the same subject don’t go far enough to be more than images of building construction sites.
While dramatic, this is a quiet show that grew on me the longer I stayed in the dark room. Some of the work would do well in the stronger light of day (or in a bright gallery) and some would be lessened (Jones' work in particular). So go see the show and think about how light and wall color influence art, because they do.
Reception, Thurs., July 14, 6-9pm. Through July 18. Grey Area, Crane Arts, 1400 American St. 215.232.3203. cranearts.com