An intriguing group exhibition, My Funny Valentine: A Tribute to Chet Baker curated by the outsider Tchera Niyego, featured Carl Andre, Ilsabé von Dallwitz, Jennifer Contini Enderby, Rudi Keimel, Ayşe Küçük, Robert Le Biez, and Michelle Sakhai. The subject matter of the exhibition explores the nature of love, and perception, visual and otherwise, in relation to the theater of passions and life. Niyego utilizes the talent of her artists to investigate the circumstance, psychology and the blueprint that comprise the performance of love.
Captivated and inspired by Chet Baker’s tale of love and ardor, Niyego is almost effortless in her selection of artists who recreate the beauty of Baker’s blues in this omnipotent and wicked show. Indulging our whimsical free spirits into a realm that is both visionary and contemplative, the exhibition is experimental yet well- studied. The blending of genres alone forms an exploration into the space where all sorts of threads of life merge into a united fabric of experience and relationships.
The central focus, and for many viewers the highlight of the show was the work of French artist Robert Le Biez, who invites viewers to rejoice with him in his poignant, cognitive rendition of the human relationships in their most exposed, honest light. Le Biez’s sculptures exist in a state that is somewhere between 2D and 3D. They are constructed out of sheets of thin wood, layering on top of each other, and dissecting each other at different points. The bright reds, yellows, blues, and greens pop against each other in a dramatic flare, accentuating their different angles and planes. In contrast to their perpendicular joints the wood plates themselves are cut and molded into elegant jazzy lines that flow gracefully. In the artist’s A Tribute to Chet Baker the contours are made with such delicacy it would appear that they were being contorted and described by the wind… In other pieces, such as Secret Flower or Havva, the contours have a more still stance, with a more even weight, dispersed throughout the entire piece. In these pieces, there is not a natural sense of mass or gravity, but a jumbled balancing act of it all, a circus composition that allocates an even presence to everything regardless of measurement. Working against nature by creating sculpture that is formed in the in between 2.5D space, La Biez coaxes viewers deeper, leaving them disoriented. Despite its chaotic nature, this balance brings a paradoxical harmony to the pieces. Having that constant visual action of hiding, seeking and folding inside and then revealing themselves once again outside, creates an interaction that establishes a comforting and pleasing progression of movement throughout the pieces. This almost peaceful play comes as somewhat of a surprise and quite a contrast to the other prominent qualities of the pieces. Although they are indeed comprised of wood, these sculptures are anything but mechanical or inflexible—they stir and dance with life, finding an exuberant breath in vivid colors, excited lines, and an animated composition.
Ilsabé von Dallwitz, a purist artist who creates digital works that create reflections themselves, leaving the viewer unsure of her medium. By focusing on the lack of boundaries between being conscious and subconscious, and their endless upward, downward, and sideways reach, the artist asks the viewer to reconsider self-constructed barriers. Dallwitz’s ambiguous works add another dimension of self-reflection to the show.
Emerging artist Ayşe Küçük’s approach to My Funny Valentine is subtle and delicate, though highly dynamic nonetheless. Razor Kiss deals with the fear and angst of “falling” in love. Utilizing the “Pink Panther” as a metaphor for this choice of sentiment, Küçük creates an atmospheric work that captures the mood of a love lost. She constructs carefully designed compositions that contrast beautifully with the Minimalist work of Carl Andre, who creates bold and powerful conceptual statements that demonstrate the artist’s excavation of secret memories and hidden love stories. An artist not only famous for his easy, child’s-play yet bearably—conceptual works, but also infamous for his temperamental relationship with his wife Ana Mendieta, the fatal performing artist; Andre adds a note of charming simplicity to My Funny Valentine. Andre is certainly one of the artists in My Funny Valentine with a delirious, hallucinatory air attempting to transcend both the clinical environment of the gallery space, and the usual expectations of the art world.
Michelle Sakhai and Rudi Keimel’s visionary works create images that combine light and lucidity, demonstrating both artists’ commitment to the merging of environment and sense of space. The impressionistic poise of the Keimel’s paintings reiterates the theatrical intent and unreal presence. Regardless of the different works’ vivacity, there is something in the broader picture that ties all of the artist’s pieces together. The juxtaposition of the human touch and emotions with geometric or architectural elements is an affair that remains constant throughout. His work, in some, sparsely spread paint cleanly contained within geometric sequences, somewhat referential to Mondrian’s work, endures and abides in the continuity of Keimel’s strength. In others, there is the same transparent application of paint, but with some subtle gradation and movement to and from altered shades.
Working with paint in a sculptural capacity, Jennifer Contini Enderby recognizes the medium’s potential: she rolls, smears, and folds an assortment of intimately personal materials in order to maximize their qualities. In her piece, compositional textures investigate an expanse of popular culture-based themes. A new breed of collage and sculptural painting, Contini Enderby’s Messy Hearts invites viewers into the artist’s subjectivity through mysterious visages. Painted in such an attentive, detailed way the painted form becomes a narrative that possesses a vitality making the wall piece appear closer to life. Finding warmth in the ordinarily cold hues of nightfall blue, gunmetal silvers, and crystal gray, Contini Enderby gives us a way to find a slight flush in that silent stone, and maybe even imagine a pulse underneath that hard-knuckled surface of a broken heart. Layers of paint, pigment, and resin are applied in layer upon layer; the result is a representation that is capricious. Expressive and fantastical, the improvisational work of this multifaceted artist reveals the hidden side of her and her subjects’ disposition.
Like the moth unceasingly propelled toward the light, oblivious to its death… like the burning spark, longing to be reunited with water… My Funny Valentine takes the viewer’s mind on an otherworldly voyage that plunges the depths of the subconscious, and the heights of our dreams of love lost, found, and the space in between.