The soft shock of the new

‘New Art Collective’ at Montserrat College, ‘New Art ’07’ at Kingston Gallery
By GREG COOK  |  July 17, 2007
MENTAL MAP #2: Mary O’Malley’s work suggests morphing jellyfish.

‘New Art Collective: Emerging Collectors Select’ | Montserrat College of Art, 23 Essex St, Beverly, Through August 10
‘New Art ’07’ | Kingston Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave, Boston | Through August 4
One of the great dreams of any art aficionado — whether your passion is painting or performance or books or music — is the dream of stumbling on a new, unheralded talent and then telling your friends all about it to prove how cool and in-the-know you are. It’s this hope of being surprised by somebody or something you haven’t seen before that’s the lure of shows like “New Art Collective: Emerging Curators Select” at Montserrat College of Art in Beverly and “New Art ’07” at Kingston Gallery in Boston.

At Montserrat, gallery director Leonie Bradbury and assistant director Shana Dumont invited emerging New England curators to submit three artists for consideration. Then they whittled it down to nine curators each picking one artist.

The artist to rave to your friends about is Somervillian Mary O’Malley, who was nominated by Watertown’s Kristen Zeiser, an assistant director of the Clark Gallery in Lincoln. O’Malley draws elaborate, intricate designs of birds and flowers in cascades of silver and gold ink lines and dashes on black paper. Mental Map #2 looks like shimmering, morphing jellyfish. Her ravishing decorative patterns feel like Art Nouveau energized by an obsessive mark making typical of great outsider art.

The rest of the show is uneven — which is the nature of these things. Dumont nominated Bostonian Irina Rozovsky’s romantic photos. In one, a tree, blurred as if seen from a moving car or train, obscures a golden sky and boys in a dirt field playing a ballgame. Elsewhere, fireworks erupt at the horizon of city rooftops and a mountain top peeks above soft grainy clouds. Some Rozovsky images feel like sweet memories or mundane moments transformed into epiphanies; some just remain mundane.

Throughout the exhibit, formal issues — particularly a penchant for patterns of lines or dots or squares — trump content. These are mild designs, and your preference will likely depend on what sort of pattern floats your boat.

For those who like squares, there’s Bostonian Patrick Short, whom Cambridge curator Heidi Marston selected to cover a black-painted gallery wall with hundreds of overlapping squares drawn in white chalk. The geometric sea is parted by a bare black stripe that runs down the center. This is Sol LeWitt territory, and Short doesn’t escape the shadow of the late conceptual master. Prefer polka dots? Cambridge curator Leika Akiyama presents Lincoln painter Amy Goodwin’s Poptiquity, a silhouette of a woman speckled with dots, and Eternal Peace, a field of dots that suggest the head and shoulders of a deer.

Phaedra Shanbaum of Jamaica Plain’s Axiom Gallery presents abstract computer animations by Shawn Towne of Buzzards Bay in which patterns of light and dark lines spin and blink. Bradbury offers Portsmouth (New Hampshire) artist Barbara Rita Jenny’s kaleidoscopic grid of bunched-up, wrinkled skin — apparently manipulated photos of fingers — printed on a hanging banner and floor tiles. From what I’ve seen in reproduction, Jenny’s fleshy mutant designs are fascinating and creepy in their basic units, but when she repeats them and turns them into wallpaper, as she does here, they’re dulled in the pattern.

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