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Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2008

Local Cross-Section

Art Review

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In "Milwaukee's Own," the Armoury Gallery's last show of 2008, Cassandra Smith and Jessica Steeber bring together four emerging local artists, three of whom created site-specific installations. "Milwaukee's Own" is an academic cross-section of sorts: All four artists are or will be MIAD alumni, trained in Milwaukee in the past decade. Aesthetically, the show is tied together by a minimal palette of paper, polystyrene, graphite, and black and gold paint, and, with the exception of some of Mary DiBiasio's works on paper, by coolly detached formalism.

Harvey Opgenorth's Space Debris: Objects of Desire (Hi-Vis Test #1) is the only piece in the show that rigorously incorporates the gallery's architecture. With a deceptively simple conceit, Opgenorth uses a corner of the gallery to paint a black square across walls and water pipes. The best seat in the house for viewing it is settled into the right corner of the gallery's settee, the vantage point at which the blocks of black paint converge to form the illusion of a two dimensional, flat black square festooned with amorphous globs of gold suspended in space.

In the gallery's small back room, kathryn e. martin's White Army is amassed, at ease, its tiny Styrofoam soldiers assembled from the bottoms of cups and plastic spears. Outside in the main gallery, her Untitled (Case Study) cascades down the wall in two clusters of ribbon-like Styrofoam, the tendrils extended and repeated by shadows cast from the overhead lights.

Colin Dickson's Reconnections takes advantage of the Armoury's high ceilings. Tightly-wound rolls of muslin printed with metallic gold are strung, clustered, and mounted to the ceiling. Similar in scale and shape, and placed sparsely throughout the gallery's aft, they hang like eight stalactites in a bright and commodious cave. Dickson's jointed strands, like the phalanges of plush fingers, rhyme visually with Mary DiBiasio's works on paper of traced and silhouetted hands.

Where Opgenorth engages the brain through the eyes and Dickson and martin hint at organic forms, in "Milwaukee's Own" the artist's hand, as it were, is nearly invisible. DiBiasio, however, repeats hers, infusing the show with literal representations of the body. Traced heads in profile, hands and fingerprints are used liberally throughout DiBiasio's work. In Great Expectations, a vertical diptych, graphite is gently dragged up from the bottom of the page, where fingers of cactus-like outgrowths jut from the mouths of limned heads in the desert landscape of empty space. There is a sense of longing in the gesture, as if grasping for the hands above beyond reach.

The artists of "Milwaukee's Own," are superficially linked by educational background and by geography, but each artist's voice is distinct. And while for now they belong to Milwaukee, their work is poised to alight and transcend it.