Not By Design

Not By Design

Amy Sillman curates a show demonstrating the persistent primacy of gut-level choices in art

As we do in a time when knowledge is increasingly measured, manipulated and manicured, proceeding on intuition seems old-fashioned. True, Malcolm Gladwell recently explored split-second decision-making in his bestseller, “Blink.” But, by and large, the impulse to go with one’s gut seems a bit foolhardy when there are analysts, consultants and even life coaches to help you do things like minimize risk and strategize opportunity.

That being said, the artist’s studio is perhaps one of the few places where intuition and the experiential retain their historical role as means toward knowledge. As a part of its “Artist Select Series,” Artists Space has enlisted painter Amy Sillman to curate “Hunch & Flail,” an exuberant, visually tight and good-looking group exhibition. Working in a variety of media, each of the 12 artists included brings their own idiosyncratic intelligence to the theme of how art gets made.

Gestural abstraction represents a standard visual cliché for the instincts of artists, so painters bear a considerable burden in their attempt to confound our expectations of the handmade. Jackie Gendel’s beautiful little abstractions ricochet all over Modernism and are a satisfying and surprising development for this talented artist. In “The Old House,” Wallace Whitney builds a frenetic pictorial space by overlaying cryptic spray paint slashes atop a forest of vertiginous, oily marks. Olav Christopher Jenssen, a well-known Norwegian painter who rarely exhibits in the U.S., offers two moody elegant works that allow the viewer inside his spare process.

For other artists in the show, process and intuition function more as aesthetic strategies than as conduits for discovery. Much contemporary art is marked by a self-conscious refusal to engage fussy production values. In the work of sculptor Pam Lins and installation artist Lisi Raskin, the handmade becomes a stagy emblem of their rejection of high-end art consumerism. Lins’ constructions of cardboard, foam and paint are reminiscent of crafty lemonade stands and tree houses while Raskin’s sprawling “Parallel Telegram” envisions the apocalyptic play of a mad-scientist-in-training.

The real gem here is Phyllis Baldino’s video compilation, “Unknown Series,” which seems to reverberate most closely with the title of the exhibition. Using cast-off and common objects such as funnels, toothpicks, and diaphragms, the camera tracks a pair of hands methodically building a variety of un-nameable composites that have no apparent function. Baldino’s low-tech, deadpan videos allow the viewer hilarious proximity to the futile and frustrating underbelly of risk.

Other stand-out moments include Greg Smith’s “Shrug and the Cakeman” in which grotesque, absurdist rituals are cheerfully enacted by off-screen characters and A.L. Steiner’s “Photo Fucker,” a raunchy, anxious video love-letter to sexy girls and recent lesbian iconography.

Amongst the usual summer glut of uninspired group shows, “Hunch & Flail” is a happy sucker-punch. Go see it.