"Swell at Meridian Gallery" by David Buuck, Artweek, October 2006
Swell at Meridian Gallery
Ten years ago, emerging local artists Amy Berk, Megan Wilson, and Carolyn Castaño put together Swell , a group exhibition at Meridian Gallery featuring new work by the artists and friends. This summer, to mark the tenth anniversary of that show, and to celebrate the development of those friendships, careers and personal lives, Meridian once again brought together new work by the trio. Featured in the two exhibition spaces of the well-lit gallery, the show revealed consistency and change in each artist's evolving repertoire.
Berk's whimsical Penguin Nation , a suite of penguin-related materials, deployed soft, warm tones to engage the colder animals. A low-mounted monitor played a digital video set to a slightly eerie pop tune of a lone penguin Berk filmed while working in New Zealand. The assembled “viewing audience” consisted of several stuffed “penguins,” beautiful lumps of felt, denim, flannel, fake fur and other items. These misshapen creatures captured the funny, yet melancholic, sense of “cuteness” one might associate with the loping, lonely penguin trotting along in the video. Along the gallery walls, Berk's connected series of ten drawings used colored pencil, whiteout and highlighters on vellum to construct abstract portraits of her creatures that were both “cute” and foreign. These works also extended Berk's ongoing fascination with using simple means to explore abstraction, color, and space in the painting field.
Castaño's Tropical Baby consisted of one small mixed-media piece on Masonite and three large canvases. These larger works, all portraits made with acrylic and mixed media, demonstrate Castaño's deft hand and light touch. Humor and whimsical feminism have always been a part of her work, and here the larger pieces brought these elements to the fore. Adding small mirrors, colored foam and bright wisps of flowery color, the canvases at times seemed to play with the visual rhetoric of pattern dresses, fluorescent rock posters and low-rider car detailing, all the while avoiding easy clichés or mere pastiche.
Wilson's installation, You're Not a Wave, You're the Water, hung in the front gallery, explores her abiding interest in country-and-western music and culture. Wilson took fragments of song lyrics and worked them into suede, then wrapped around wood and hung them on the Western-design-festooned gallery walls. Phrases such as “I want you/ to be the last one/ to touch me” and “stirrup to stirrup/ side by side” practically ached with longing and sadness, even when seemingly taken out of their original contexts. As a whole, the installation brought these fragments together in such a way as to make a cohesive whole without succumbing to easy sentimentality.
In the rear gallery, Wilson's Night Bloom took up half the room with its hybrid assemblage of painting, sculpture, found objects, and sound. This environment combined taxidermy, textiles, wood, felt and bright sequins on pins that glittered in the gallery's expansive light. Against a field of horizontal bands of blues and greens painted on the wall, various ecological and “natural” forms jutted out, as if the had become a Petri dish for some strange plastic-nature exhibit. While others have explored the synthetic-organic divide in installation with more effect – pushing the creepiness where Wilson settles for pretty ornament – this overall assembly fit well with Castaño's paintings on the opposite walls and provided a sharp contrast to Wilson's work in the front room.
Given the stated theme of the show, it would have been nice if the gallery had found some way to present the artists' exhibit from ten years ago, or to explore the ways in which each artist's work has developed over the decade. If “marriage, motherhood, and maturation” are indeed the focal points for their development, as the exhibit's press release argues, it is hard to see that in the work actually presented (even if it is no doubt true for the individual artists in their lives and careers). Nonetheless, this is more an issue of packaging than of the work itself, which continues to charm. Indeed, all signs indicate that ten years hence we will no doubt be anticipating another installment of the ongoing collaboration and engagement that is Swell.