A Marriage of Text and Texture in Fiterman Gallery Show

Detail from "of cries and whispers" by Colin Chase, which uses text from Martin Luther King, Jr.'s 1967 book, "Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?"

Jun. 09, 2017

If you've never been inside the delightfully sunny and expansive Shirley Fiterman Art Center at West Broadway and Barclay Street, now is the time to go. "Text/ure," a group show of 20 pieces chosen for the artists' use of words and texture, is original and thought-provoking.

Our guide is its curator, Kristen Frederickson (her co-curator is Avery Curran), a former gallery-owner in Tribeca who now lives in London. She speaks to us through her commentaries posted alongside each piece, and her excitement is contagious. She goads us to be patient, to look longer and deeper, to see.  

An art historian by training, Frederickson asks us to think about the words on display, some famous, others written by ordinary people, as well as understand the work's shapes and materials.

In a series by Ula Einstein, words written on eggshells "underscores the simultaneous extraordinary power and yet insufficiency of language." In three freestanding pieces by Courtney Puckett, Frederickson sees in the collaboration of fabric, metal, wire, wood and string, "an attention to detail and care akin to the binding of a wound."

A marriage of words and texture are particularly evident in Duston Spear's eight-foot-long piece entitled "War-Night," made from oil, paint and tar. Smeared almost savagely across the canvas are the wartime writings of Stephen Crane. They are only partially readable, intentionally damaged and obscured in dull, sad colors. "The scale of the canvas-as-battlefield makes it impossible to look away," Frederickson observes, "even as our ambitions to make sense of it are in vain."

There is sadness, too—particular to the psyche of an artist—that is found in Paul Gagner's "Bouyancy Was Lost and Everything Became as Lead." Those words are written beside what may be a stand-in for his own sketch book, where a page has been violently ripped in half, revealing another sketch beneath. The viewer can only hope that, in the artist's state of despondency, it too does not meet the same fate.

Some the pieces abandon the Text/ure theme, two of which are the strongest in the show.

"Outside There is Raging Chaos," Kate Teale's wonderful painting of a darkened window beckons us to look inside and learn its residents' secrets. But, as Frederickson points out, the "layered painterly textures hides every color of the palette beneath its deceptively simple surface." If there are secrets here, as one assumes there are in most homes, it is left to our imaginations, or projections, to say what lies behind that pristine white curtain.

The pièce de resistance of this show—David Henderson's "Brief History of Aviation," is a 34-foot-long installation made from wood and fabric that nearly fills the space of the gallery's second room. The viewer can walk through Henderson's work, which is reminiscent of those gossamer-like wings of the first airplanes. The effect is enchanting and remarkably peaceful. In her commentary, Frederickson sees the piece evoking "the sense of awe felt by early churchgoers as they entered a space far removed from the casual vernacular of their daily lives."

It's too bad that this magnificent work is not at the show's entrance—inviting the visitor inside. Fortunately, in its present space, the curator has thoughtfully put a bench beneath the work's soaring "wings," giving us a chance to rest and perhaps think about what we have just seen.

Shirley Fiterman Art Center, Borough of Manhattan Community College, is at 81 Barclay St. The gallery is open Tuesday through Saturday, from noon to 6 p.m. The show continues through Sept 9.