'Albert Reyes and Megan Wilson at Ampersand' by Alison Bing, Artweek, April 2006
Spring by Megan Wilson, 2006, at Ampersand
Albert Reyes and Megan Wilson at Ampersand
Most people entering a room to find the walls festively decked out in streamers and pictures would be inclined to ask, “What's the occasion?” As an art critic, one learns to be blasé about this kind of thing – it's not a surprise birthday or bar mitzvah or memorial service, it's just an installation. But there are times when an installation does seem to mark a real occasion, and these instances make all those other installation non-events seem pointless, sad and a little shoddy. Anxious gallerists may try to hedge their bets with DJs, free booze, poster giveaways and unicycling performance art projects, but there's no disguising an uneventful installation.
Happily, there was no such need at Ampersand's side-by-side shows of Megan Wilson and Albert Reyes. Here, Wilson made an event of spring, which turns out to be a fine occasion for her quillwork wall installation made with ribbons of paper, straight pins and sequins bursting from a grid – it too is sprawling, ebullient and near impossible to pin down exactly. In the adjoining room, Albert Reyes filled the walls with drawings of hipsters, Chihuahuas, celebrities and others striking their usual poses, without realizing that they are fast becoming history. Reyes's anarchic altar display of unlikely relics could be a celebration of the Day of the Not-Dead-Yet, a holiday to accommodate punk and Michael Jackson and Paris Hilton and other cultural phenomena that refuse to pass into oblivion long after they have been eulogized.
Together the two shows create a kind of postmodern life cycle, from naïve new beginning to pop-culture zombiedom that seems somehow naïve all over again. The promising beginning is less often observed than the slightly bitter end of this cycle – tender new shoots occur to most urban dwellers far less often than tabloids – which makes Wilson's quillwork wall such a pleasant surprise.
Wilson has established a reputation as a kind of conceptual folklorist who with ideas that should be entirely natural, yet in our complex urban environments are anything but: a flower-strewn path, the single word “home,” and now the beginning of spring. Invoking spring is elusive work usually left to groundhogs, but Wilson pulls it off with tender green paper spirals that unfurl from the wall like fiddleheads, sequins glinting like dew, and raindrop-shaped loops breaking up an implacable painted grid that seems a fitting cipher for city life. This fertile profusion of ornament conveys the idea of spring, without trying to capture or contain it – which is perhaps the shortcoming of some of Wilson's framed quillwork trees in her Spring Series . The difference between the controlled, carefully balanced scrollwork in Spring Series #4 and the ripe blossoming in the wall installation is the difference between a tight bud pruned by a florist and the effusive, momentary grandeur of Dutch still life bloom: The first inspires passing admiration, but does not continue to unfold in the mind the way the other does. On the other hand, Spring Series #2 is probably as close to spring as it is possible to get inside a frame. Here, Wilson's off-centered scrollwork branches and leaves seem to riot against the strict geometry of the painted backdrop, effortlessly defying human-imposed order the way that nature, in its infinite wisdom is wont to do. Wilson's creative effort seems entirely natural here, and each curl of paper is a mark of her attentiveness to the subject at hand.
There's a mounting suspense in Reyes's accumulated images, as though the artist were a culture agent in deep cover, amassing evidence for an indictment that is still a ways off. The prolific, versatile Reyes assumes a variety of guises here, ranging from 1950's textbook illustrator to Mission school, graffiti poet. These image are hung so tightly together that one cannot be seen independent of the next; the differences and similarities among Reyes's figures become as pronounced as a police lineup and hint at a most bizarre backstory. One such lineup includes a baroque severed head that could belong to some forgotten patron saint; a hasty drawing of a mugging, clock-sporting Chuck D; a grimacing gray blob that could be a distant relative of the Beatle's “Nowhere Man”; and a somewhat clinical drawing of a woman with a ponytail observing a man in a bathrobe, whose nose is growing as long as Pinocchio's as he chats up another woman. The individual pieces vary in appeal, but as a group the work is undeniably tantalizing – any story you might imagine bringing together this cast of characters is bound to be a doozy. In the midst of the pictorial fray appears a king with two birds in hand with a panting Rottweiler, along with a word poem containing an artistic statement that sounds something like an accusation: “more satisfying than it can ever be. Like my blue diamond almond breeze.” Reyes is right: His work gives you just enough to leave you wanting more, and what sounds like a tasty tropical cocktail besides.
In the corner as though for misbehavior are a cluster of celebrities, and their little dogs too, along with the now seemingly obligatory cartoons of Bush administration officials. But unlike the celebrity dog pairings, these political parodies are satires without the Goya-esque sting of a truth revealed to them – and they're plainly missing it, like donkeys waiting for the tail to be pinned on them. Cartoon rebukes without reason hold about the same interest as a faux wrestling match: The moves are so choreographed and the takedown is such a given you begin to root for the apparent bad guy, just to keep things interesting. This is a bit of a disappointment, because Reyes clearly has the talent and wit to sustain interest in a more complex narrative. But this seems a minor complaint, because on the whole what both Reyes and Wilson have achieved here is not clever conceptual trickery, but something more significant: They make a gallery visit an unexpected event, and give viewers reason to mark their calendars for their next shows.