“Grasping for Relics,” at ZieherSmith Gallery, is a group show of eleven artists and thirty-six works that, at surface level, have very few similarities. The show’s organizer Patrick Brennan, however, invites the viewer to look at the images with dreams in mind. His question—whether or not good dreams do the opposite of bad dreams in how the brain processes difficult emotions resulting from trauma—is never really answered. But it doesn’t matter. The mere mention of the word “dream” activates the mind’s imaginative power.
Thinking about how these individual paintings, drawings, and sculptures relate to one another is akin to how we remember a dream. We apply a sequence. We create a story. A complicated web of images and feelings thus becomes a dream about something or someone.
Ryan Wallace’s Still Life opens the show with three vases of plastic flowers covered in white paint and glitter. Like props in a movie or a play, they signal a change from one environment to another, or perhaps from one state of mind to the next.
Move into the main gallery and you’ll realize the grouping of objects into threes or twos is a recurring motif. A pair of large acrylic canvases by Joshua Smith recalls a vision test: which is clearer, left or right? Or, in this case, which blue is more chromatic? Is the blue on the left a faded denim, the one on the right a midnight sky?
Ned Colclough’s structure is a slant rhyme to Smith’s monochromes. Attached, two vertical brackets, navy blue on the inside and white on the outside, create a frame or a doorway. A white chiseled lump of wood sits at the bottom, blocking entrance or egress.
Paintings by Ariel Dill and Saira Mclaren, and works on paper by Scott Olson suggest an underwater world or a flooded interior. Anne Pibal’s collages offer beach scenes and surfers gridded or framed by yellow tape. In these images, water is a liminal space that mimics the shadowy lull of a dream or an abstract vacation—moments close to waking up, filled with language that remains untongued and promises that flit away too soon.
John Finneran’s oil and enamel painting on aluminum, Upturned Elephant, contains all the disorientation of a dream or an abstract painting turned on its side to reveal or conceal a recognizable image. Similarly, Jason Brinkerhoff’s sensuous drawings of women turn abstraction into a process that warps the body. These drawings are brooding and dark, never really going beyond the surface of the paper.
“Grasping for Relics” can be read as grasping for meaning, as a relic is a piece of history, an object of significant value. The show challenges the viewer to come up with his or her own narrative, despite and because of the disparity of images.
The Sufi poet Rumi, in describing to the reader how his poems could be read, advised: “Actually, friend, what you’re eating is your own imagination. These poems are not just old sayings and saws.” Like a poem, dreams are always ripe with meaning because in our recollection of them, we are asked to imagine and create significance.
Images: Installation view of Still Life by Ryan Wallace, 2011; John Finneran, Upturned Elephant, 2010, oil and enamel on aluminum, 96 x 78 inches . Courtesy Ziehersmith Gallery.