Williamsburg Art and Historical Center
Having just closed an immense, exhilarating, exhausting show of “surrealist, fantastic, and visionary art” that inspired almost as much denunciation as delight (and that included a costume ball, an over-the-top “fashion show,” and a film series), the Williamsburg Art and Historical Center gave itself a well-deserved breather. Its subsequent show, “Mercurial,” featured only four artists (instead of over 400) whose work would fit well into any adventurous contemporary gallery.
Rie Hachiyanagi created an installation, Tears, that filled a side room on the second floor. Drawing on the license of a non-native speaker, she puns on the two meanings of “tears”—salty eye excretions and rips—breaking through the barrier that native speakers erect between these unrelated designations to avoid obvious confusions. Her installation consisted of a space filled with slivers of dollar bills hanging from draped cloth. The slivers reached to within two or three feet of the floor, so one walked through them, parting them like a continuous but exquisitely rarefied bead curtain. At first, one might have thought that she was representing a form of rain (for which tears constitute a rather commonplace metaphor) with the twisting chiaroscuro of the material. But when viewers realized what the material actually was, they experienced a lacerating shock. For those friends in their wallets or purses had been transformed with excruciatingly delicate irony, in a deliberate gesture of wastage, into a solid environment, a virtual weather condition, like an economic invasion or a bombing raid.
In the main second-floor gallery, curator Yuko Nii installed the work of three artists working in metal. Daniel Rothbart used welded aluminum to create a series of provocative biomorphic forms that include stag horn coral-like branchings, webbings, immense worm-like segmentations, a coil and line of hookings, and a curious hanging device reminiscent of a miniature child’s swing, but with variously shaped metal bulbs hanging from it. He calls this collection his “urban botany,” expressing organic themes through inanimate building materials. There’s a very refined humor in Rothbart’s contrast between material and theme.
Tamiko Kawata builds virtual cosmologies out of safety pins and other commonplace materials. Viewers approached a 15-foot-diameter swirling pattern on the floor, sensing something galactic in the glistening whirl. That the work consisted entirely of linked safety pins came as a revelation. There is a great deal of art based on obsessiveness with materials nowadays, grandiose works fabricated by endlessly repeating the same constructive act. Kawata has given her capacity for this kind of work a striking metaphysical resonance: the banality of her materials contrasts strongly with the themes of her overall forms, and viewers are led to reflect that the universe may be constructed along similar lines.
Finally, Gloria Kisch installed a series called “Bells”: chains of stainless steel bells, vaguely oriental bells, Tyrolian cowbells, and so forth, shish-kebabbed like immense wind chimes, hanging on chains from the ceiling, and interlarded with other symmetrical metal shapes. The bells had an appealing momentousness, asserting their sensuous curves and metallic gleams with a boldness that offered a satisfying balance to the minute obsessiveness of Kawata and Hachiyanagi and the aspiring branchings of Rothbart.