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San Francisco
Tyler Cufley
Eli Ridgway Gallery
172 Minna Street, San Francisco, CA 94105
February 21, 2009 - March 28, 2009

by Andy Ritchie


Through the serpentine entrance and beyond the reach of daylight, a strong lavender-magenta washes the room's walls, a sort of antechamber within Baer Ridgway Exhibitions. This portentous hum (as visual as auditory) beams from the room's central piece, Dumpster, and solely lights the room's three resident paintings-as well as my path. BRE, a gallery just four months new, has an enviable Minna Street sprawl (up, down, and all around), and the freedom here to isolate work makes a solo show like this possible. With the opportunity to deviate and experiment, it seems the curators used their resources well.

As a light source, Dumpster makes an eye-opening (searing?) introduction. The piece itself is a rad simulacrum of a dumpster made of milky white plastic with a light-saber-like X of neon tubes coaxing X-ray vision through the plastic translucence. The proprietary fastening of the joints and angles is coolly simple and effective: a real prefab receptacle of destruction. The looming neon light makes the downstairs green, or seem, and sets up a tone of polarity that runs throughout. In fact, there are insidious crossings everywhere, including black & white X color, photograph X paint, formalism X expression, and a recurring checkerboard that warps between chess-ready to backgammon thin.


This fluidity of visual elements first appears here. Three sprayed spots echo the room's color and fuzzily stamp the photo Dustin like neon cross-sections (or maybe the Predator's laser sight?). Patty, on the same wall, shares the fluorescence but not the color. Subtle shifts. Across the room, in a composed isolation, is an incomplete checkerboard of gold leaf and white, a kind of Atari 2600 homunculus sprouting from the canvas' lower right, like a traditional signature. It's the first instance I connected the binary X of Dumpster with the binary of the checkerboard.

What threw me was the unintended binary, the dissonance, between the artist's visuals and politics being communicated. Did I mention the Dustin previously mentioned is Dustin Hoffman? My notes read "Left painting blurred male photo" because that's all I see. The only bone thrown was the first name in the title. The rest had to be explained to me by a gallery assistant: ditto for Patty Hearst on Dustin's right and Weathermen from the downstairs gallery. The source photos are obscured and unreadable-except literally in the title of the Weathermen piece. If the revolution-aesthetic or political-depends on gallery assistants, we're all f***ed. (Nothing personal, Rebecca.) Anyway, I had fun googling the connections among these radicals and their would-be/could-be victims.

But what are Cufley's intentions? Only a tenuous rebellion could ever result from the conventional paintings and sculptures on display, outmoded in that way like the radical movement he references. One foot in the gallery, the other on the streets? If Tyler Cufley is a radical, then Shepard Fairey is a radical. The problem here is that painting about radicalism is as useless to action as an internet message board threat. The primacy and immediacy (not to mention the good communication) of a firsthand source is absent. The rebellion has been reduced to a subject, an interest, and an opportunity for name-dropping, albeit in a tight, beautiful package. So it works as scholarship, in a sense, but not revolution. On this thought, I circle the dump a few more times, instinctively trying to warm my hands over the neon glow before advancing downstairs into the chilly green.


Vision is a funny thing; turns out the downstairs gallery is white. The walls, punctuated by Cufley's work, are black. Ad Reinhardt-black. Morris Louis-like pours of saturated grey and black grab my attention first. I'm pummeled with crisscrossing thin diagonals over a looser vertical grain, like rain-streaked windows. These wet argyle socks are fascinating in their subtleties and control. The titles, probably meaningful to the artist, are throwaway to me. (Observe: The Void Is So Pregnant That I'm Going To Lonely Beach.) A video adjacent is essentially a pared-down, animated outline of these various painted behaviors. It's an easily readable, automated kaleidoscope, a well-appreciated primer.

One of a series, Darkness III projects a forecast so doleful it might as well have been delivered by the Weathermen. Or the Watchmen (see below). Along with the rest of Darkness, this work is a cloud photo printed in negative with very low contrast, revealing the fine, curved delineations of sky and water vapor. Uniquely among the Darkness series, III has been reflected, creating a seam of symmetry and an aesthetic neighbor to the video. This compound flipping can best be appreciated among works turning similar motions-a major boon for the solo format here.



The elephant in the room, Bunker/Black Hole, uses a similar reflection in the scrap ad-hoc shelter construction. Cardboard and screws and such, it's painted a greyed-out abraded black, like a lifetime accumulation of dust and grit. It's also all tails: there is literally no entrance (ergo, philosophically no exit either). The problem of entrance and exit recurs in the artist's matching portraits, sporting a hooded sweatshirt backwards, the artist's aft side facing the lens. These "faces" flank a sort of liquid yin-yang painting of black and white (and aberrant pink). It's funny: though the portraits are the same, their arrangement pushes them two different ways. I guess I stand somewhere in between.

--Andy Ritchie

Images top-bottom:  Untitled (Dumpster), 2009, Polyethylene and tube lamps, 57 x 72 x 46 inches; Untitled (Dustin), 2009, Acrylic and inkjet on canvas, 46 x 36 inches; Untitled (Patty), 2009, Acrylic and inkjet on canvas, 46 x 36 inches; Untitled (Darkness III), 2008, Archival inkjet print, 20 x 14 inches (image), 24 x 18 inches (paper), Edition of 8; Bunker/Black Hole, 2008, Cardboard and paint, 42 x 40 x 94 inches; All images courtesy Baer Ridgeway Exhibitions and the artist)


Posted by Andy Ritchie on 3/8/09 | tags: photography sculpture

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