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The Tufts Daily
Where you read it first | Saturday, April 20, 2024

Age-old medium 'Resurfaced'

Postmodern painting has posed a problem ever since, well, the modern era faded into the misty past. Amid cries of "Painting is dead!" some artists still choose to push the boundaries of the traditional medium. "Resurfaced," the current exhibition at the Boston University Art Gallery (BUAG), addresses the challenges of contemporary painting in a colorful, varied exhibition.

By showcasing art from across the country -- the curator, Joshua Buckno, solicited work from places as varied as Miami and New York City -- the BUAG displays the ways artists have innovatively handled paint and the surfaces beneath it.

Seven artists are included in the show: Sam Gilliam, Katy Stone, Gina Ruggieri, Sam Cady, Jennifer Riley, Bill Thompson, and Roger Tibbetts. All of them approach the question posed by the curator, "What constitutes a painting in the wake of the postmodern period?" in completely different ways.

"'Resurfaced' explores the intersection between sculpture and painting," said Buckno. The works by Thompson, Gilliam, Tibbitts and Stone showcase this intersection most explicitly. Bill Thompson's portraits of "Ruben," "Doris," "Ray," "Hudson," and "Pet" greet the visitor like jewels studding the title wall of the exhibition. Against the black background, the epoxy blocks come off of the wall, glittering in a way reminiscent of a new car. Upon approach, viewers can see their own reflections, adding another dimension to the idea of a portrait. The unique shape and shade of each block serve as representations of different people in Thompson's life.

Sam Gilliam paints colorful, fabric sculpture-like pieces that protrude from the wall into the viewing area. The first, "Poster Turban," doesn't allow the word "turban" out of your head, though it does not resemble one. Its folds and creases, along with its Technicolor reds, blues and greens, somehow echo a headdress. The second, "Untitled," is much larger and contains many smaller structures, some of which resemble collapsing boxes. It is one of the exhibit's gambles to classify works like these as paintings; many conventional perspectives would call Gilliam's work fiber art or sculpture.

Roger Tibbitts's work, primarily balls resembling molecular structures that appear to grow out of the wall, is the weakest of the show in terms of its relevance to the theme. In monochromatic black and white, these installations fall more into the category of sculpture than painting since color and shading weren't even considered. The balls take over an entire wall of the small exhibition space.

Shimmering cascades of Mylar and vibrant reds, whites, yellows and blues dominate the opposite wall of the exhibition. Katy Stone's two pieces, with their realistic painted elements on Mylar installations, provide the bridge between the more sculptural and more painterly aspects of the exhibition. "[Her] abstract paintings inhabit the third dimension with a nebulous quality, as if the painting descended form the ceiling and is in the midst of evolving into an object," Buckno said in the exhibition catalog.

Jennifer Riley's "Five Sleds" are paintings exploring color, in an Ellsworth Kelly sort of way. Leaned against the wall rather than hung, the backs of the paintings reflect off the white wall in a secondary spectrum. They seem more imitative than innovative.

Sam Cady and Gina Ruggieri are the two artists whose work is most impressive in the exhibition. Cady's work fits into the theme through his exploration of canvas shapes, while Ruggieri's falls under innovative surface explorations. Cady's "Single Scull" hangs on the wall, appearing to be the three-dimensional bottom of a boat although in reality it is just a well-rendered painting.

"Morning Mirage, Jones Garden" seems like a typical landscape -- except that the canvas stops where the trees and water do rather than including the sky. Its long, thin shape attracts the viewer to lean in closely and observe the details, such as distant boats along the shoreline.

Ruggieri's realistic paintings of rock piles appear to lie directly on the wall, but they are in fact painted on Mylar. The contrast between the incredibly thin surface and the heavy solidity of the hyper-realistic rocks poses a question for visitors peering from across the gallery: are those rocks really there? Is there a window there? But no, the paintings are just exceedingly well done, and draw viewers in through the tension between material and subject.

"Resurfaced" is worth visiting if you're on the BU campus or are exceedingly interested in postmodern painting. The small size of the exhibition and the inconsistent quality of the work, however, with Tibbits and Riley being the weakest links, make it unworthy of a special trip.

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