Nov. 24 2014 05:16 PM

Group exhibition at Helmuth Projects shows how constraints can spur imagination

ObjectObject
Photo by Josh Pavlick

More is not always better. Anyone who's spent an evening flipping through thousands of cable TV channels looking for a single decent show can tell you that sometimes more is just more. Fortunately, the 86 small works that comprise the exhibition Object Object!! at Helmuth Projects are consistently compelling.

Curating artists John Oliver Lewis and Jessica McCambly, under the moniker "good good things," were invited to work within two constraints: Objects had to be no larger than 10 inches in any direction and had to be priced under $300. Constraint often breeds ingenuity, and the work on display is proof.

One favorite was Matthew Hebert's "Prayers for Rain (for Wilhelm Reich)," in which a hacked Radio Shack WeatheRadio plays songs about weather as if from scratched LPs on a faraway radio station. The piece anchors a series of whimsical 3D objects re-imagining the familiar. Kelly Eginton's "Endless Sunset" consists of a Bakelite slide case filled with slides of sun-bleached sugar paper that create a polychromatic series of tiny abstract sunsets. 

Allison Wiese's "Intercom" is defiantly nonfunctional, made of woodblock, found objects and a blinking red light like a high-concept toy. Jessica Halonen's "Flutter (spreadsheet 3)" is a perfectly constructed paper airplane made of aluminum, enamel and ink; it inspires visions of a classroom floor littered with airplanes after a particularly rowdy study hall.

Meanwhile, Farrah Emami's "Living Room (Fireplace I)" is an object that operates differently. Made of white clay, it appears to be a crumbling cast of a fireplace's interior corner, but the viewer instinctively fills in the missing dimensions; though working within the constraints of the exhibition, it implies a much larger spatial presence. Tom Driscoll's "Casing," made of cast cement, and Joshua West Smith's "thinness 2," made of plywood, dirt and enamel, are wall-mounted but protrude into the space, aestheticizing construction and giving the viewer pause.

Bhavna Mehta's "Seed studies—Garbanzo beans" and Wendell M. Kling's "Images from the Moon World" offer equally intricate but tantalizingly different approaches to cut paper as a medium. May-Ling Martinez's "Revelation" draws the viewer into a finely detailed microcosm that conveys the emotional power of ecstatic religious experience, while the variable shades of white-on-white in scott b. davis' "in ko pah mountains" and T. Matthew L. Dunn's "Molloy" invite meditations on how we hold memories, how they fade and what remains.

Object Object!!, which closes with a reception from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 6, succeeds in the tension between the scope of its ambition and the scale of the work by reaffirming the potential for small objects to convey big ideas; the show in aggregate rewards the viewer's close observation and offers a welcome antidote to the prevailing culture of commercial galleries and corporate art fairs, where big hype yields small returns.


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