New York

“Condensed Space”

Nassau County Museum Of Fine Arts

There are a number of other artists working similarly close to their materials, affecting thick sloppy surfaces with the care of a master. One of these is George Grant, who slaps concrete on his Houses of Torment so it oozes between bricks and wood like mud. His houses in the “Condensed Space” exhibition contrast innocence with implications of morbidity. Painted near-white or candyland pastels, a single gaping black hole acts as doorway to each small house—the one opening allowed. Looking like the neighborhood haunted house they suggest scenes of torture or imprisonment. Rejecting slickness, these coarsely satiric dwellings might be the dollhouses of a perverse child.

Equally malevolent, Ira Joel Haber’s scarred and scorched houses slap society in the face, presenting a scathing picture of neglect or helplessness; beloved split-levels melted and charred, forests laid low in the aftermath of an unnamed catastrophe. A lifeless and deserted scene contains Haber’s ode to destruction: a triple-decker disaster of houses, forest and mountain burnt to a crisp and clearly deserted. Haber encloses the scenes in glass and stacks them one upon the other like display-case specimens. His Last Box of ’72 portrays rubble of bricks, lurid pink paint and leopard spotted floors, and again the victimized forest.

With the same satiric edge, Frances Hynes shows the world as seen by a peeping Tom. Tiny wooden boxes with window panes in front present scenes as dioramas, collaged photos pasted in the back as scenery or interior view. Distancing the viewer by the windowpane grid, Shalimar contains a laconic night club scene behind bars. The barrier allows room for envy or pity, perceived either as excluding outsiders or locking in the insiders. In View of Garden, Arles Hynes again places the window to imply a barrier, obscuring rather than opening the wall to a view. What Van Gogh might have seen in deranged color Hynes offers in stark black and white; colors fled, sterile white walls frame the empty room.

The mood not only lightens, it reverses itself to scenes of Midwestern goodness with the wire mesh homesteads of Donald Sandstrom. Like a postcard from the Bible Belt, Sandstrom shows sweetly nostalgic farms and churches. Layers of wire mesh are contoured and painted into rolling hills and dales, trees, clouds and tiny buildings. The mesh is painted with vivid scenes, wrapping over the top and around the sides of each box. And these pieces are again enclosed boxes, tight rectangles that are as neat and systematic as the landscapes they portray. But these bucolic scenes, mild packages of the American way, contain their share of wry wit. Totally self-involved, we can’t get in and they can’t get out; one of us is safe.

The theme is continued with set-up landscapes by others in the show: shallow labyrinth boxes, roadways and mock-up settlements. Jerome Zimmerman’s outdoor mound recalls the feeling for cultural artifact of Miriam Bloom’s work; the glassed-in boxes by Sandy Gellis and John Willenbecher contain pieces with overt reference to the earth itself. Space “condensed” is a slight misnomer, as the content of these works is hardly space itself, as it is defined in the work of Von Schlegell, or Pepper; what we have here is a shrinking down of life-sized events into miniature, a size more conducive to personalized probing and redefinition.

Deborah Perlberg