Urban living has its pleasures with ready access to art exhibitions being among them. It is intriguing then to view an exhibit which questions and satirizes the critical concentration of citizenry which one might argue allows such a show to take shape. (SUB)URBAN, now on view at the University of Maryland’s Stamp Gallery, brings together six artists whose works showcase the more mundane aspects of urban life, highlighting ennui over engagement. While some works belabor this point, others critique with a lighter touch.
Displayed near the gallery’s entrance, Nicholas Satinover’s A Pink Slip Fashioned Flag (For College Park) (2017) sets a definite tone that is echoed through the exhibition. The large, approximately eight by six foot, grouping of woodblock prints resembles a brick façade covered with the words work and worry in a compositional arrangement meant to suggest a duality between the two ideas. While the brightly-colored “bricks” capture the fast-paced dynamism of urban life, the endless repetition of work/worry casts that dynamism in an anxious light. Sang-Mi Yoo’s In Transition (2016) evokes a related feeling of claustrophobia, casting a repeating series of anonymous apartment blocks that grow larger in size as the work pivots from a horizontal to vertical axis. The anxiety intensifies as the viewer steps underneath the portion of the work that hangs from the ceiling and becomes more engulfed in repeating, seemingly endless monotony. Benjamin Rogers creates a bleak narrative within one of those apartments with his What Did I Know of Love’s Austere and Lonely Offices (2016), where the protagonists are physically close to one another yet seemingly miles apart emotionally.
Points of levity do arise within the exhibition. Christine Buckhorn Tillman’s Clay Paper Chain is the most oblique reference to urbanity in the show with interlocking links hanging from the ceiling. While the artist’s intent may be to comment on or repurpose a commonly discarded item, when viewed within the context of the exhibition, the work could also be seen as a community joined together with seemingly fragile bonds, ironically strengthened by the materials from which they are made. Yoonmi Nam’s Takeout (Csirke-Fogo) (2015) and Take Out (Thank You Thank You Thank You) (2016) echo this irony with her use of unsuspecting materials (porcelain and glass) to highlight the mindlessness we sometimes exhibit in a fast-paced world. Amze Emmons turns irony into humor with A Visual Index for City Walkers (2017), an offset printed lithograph which defines litter as “single-use confetti of a gilded age.”
With a definite slant to the humdrum, (SUB)URBAN presents an unflattering look at urban life. In emphasizing the tension created by close-knit living over the myriad of potential bonds such living engenders, the exhibition as a whole presents a more dystopic view of urbanity than each individual artist perhaps might otherwise intend. Thankfully Nam’s Noodle, Promise and Jazz end the exhibition on a high note, suggesting there is beauty to be found in even the most unexpected places.
(SUB)URBAN is on view through December 16. For more information, visit the gallery’s website here.
Banner image: Street Life Flat Pack (2016) by Amze Emmons; UV coroplast shapes. Photo for East City Art by Eric Hope.