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Art Review: At Fe gallery, lust makes attractive exhibit By Mary Thomas

Saturday, December 06, 2003

By Mar Thomas, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

"Lust" in Lawrenceville -- who knew?

Fe gallery, the new kid on the block, is pushing the envelope with another stimulating exhibition of contemporary art, the third since the gallery opened in August, organized by artist/director Jill Larson.

"Film Still #3" by James Seward
Click photo for larger image.

Continuing her commitment to mix local and national artists, Larson is showing four each from Pittsburgh and New York City, five from Georgia, and one from Baltimore. The whole is more than the sum of its parts, as juxtaposed works inspire conversations about technique and theme.

For example, Mary Beth Woiccak's ethereal, flowing calligraphic ink drawings may at first seem out of place, except for the artist's proclaimed passionate relationship with line and page, and for the role language plays in defining social norms, including sexuality. As in the crude terms for male and female reproductive anatomy embroidered on pink and blue towels of Norma Markley's "His/Hers," a device that challenges gender expectations, and has been similarly explored by other contemporary artists; or in the romance novels that make up Susan Breitsch's several-foot long "tunnel" on the gallery floor.

Moving laterally, across the wall and from conceptual to blatant, Cornel Rubino's "foreplay" drawings are mischievous explorations of erotic and scatological subject matter created with humor and a sure hand, but also reminiscent of what a student would pen in the back of a classroom.

"Pull the Shade" by Barbara Schreiber
Click photo for larger image.

In comparison, the humor in Barbara Schreiber's smart, fastidiously rendered small paintings is satiric, exposing the vapid nature of much of what commonly passes for titillating.

Three Pittsburghers are prominent at the show's entry. Judith Schumacher's "Semisweet"-- a woman's nude, truncated torso coated with a pour of melted chocolate (15 pounds of it) -- naughtily equates sensual pleasures while also calling to mind Karen Finley's 1980s feminist performances. Voluptuous realism is the key ingredient of James Seward's "Film Still" paintings that, like the movies that inspire them, seduce the viewer to fantasized experience. Connie Cantor's found-object "Small Resurrections" are formally childlike, which makes the undertone of innocence violated all the stronger.

Suiting its subtle nature, Pittsburgher Delanie Jenkins' prodding "Mamelles" -- a spattering of nipples that push out of the wall plaster and speak "body" where there is none -- is at the back of the gallery, giving it the remove and potential for discovery that completes its effectiveness.

There's nothing subtle about the strong and evocative works by Catya Plate, Yun Bai and Neil Bender, although it takes a moment to see past their formal prettiness. Plate's "Clothespin Mandalas" may make you wince, which is her purpose, calling attention to the "fine line between pain and pleasure" in the manner of the late performance artist Bob Flanagan. What appear to be refined, floral patterned lacquer works are actually part of Bai's "Porn Flowers" series comprising images cut from sex magazines, purportedly to challenge sexism but perhaps giving it presence instead. Bender's dream-like ink and acrylic compositions invite speculation.

Tamara Gonzales' "Heartthrob," a large, inflated red heart smothered with white, drippy paint, suggests dominance and disappointment. Nathan Antolik's video "Systolic Machine" sets up a pulsing rhythm, but the imagery isn't defined enough to project its underlying message.

Disparate as the works are, they give interpretive breadth to a perennially fascinating subject, as well as continue Fe's promise to be fresh.

"Lust" continues through Dec. 19 at 4102 Butler St. Gallery hours are noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday and Friday. For information, call 412-860-6028.

Art & Cookies

If you visit Fe today, you can also embark on the annual Lawrenceville Joy of Cookies Tour (free). Sample cookies, pick up recipes and shop at 14 participating stores and galleries along Butler Street from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. today and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. tomorrow.

Among the oldest galleries, at nine years, and most deserving of attention, is Gallery on 43rd Street, a half-block north of Butler. Owner Mary Coleman is a weaver, and alongside her own accomplished work she displays that of Southwestern artists and artisans, such as self-taught artist Tom Bussoletti's appealing carved sandstone and cast concrete fish and frogs, and Sigrid Shafagh's fine paintings and whimsical ceramics.

Other venues that exhibit artwork are Studio K Gallery and Slaughterhouse Gallery, plus Picturesque Photography & Gifts, Buckets of Joy, and Emma's Art & Coffee Emporium.

Tour maps are available at Arsenal & Old Lace, 3609 Butler, Transformation Treasures, 5231 Butler, and at all stops in between. A cookies-only bake sale by churches and other nonprofits will be held from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. today and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. tomorrow at St. Augustine's Auditorium, 220 37th St.

Post-Gazette art critic Mary Thomas can be reached at or 412-263-1925.

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