The Art Capades

Half of “Less Than Half of What You Deserve,” a detail from Katie Pell’s current Blue Star Installation. Courtesy photo.
Monumental Drawings;
The Best That I Can Give You And Less Than Half Of What You Deserve
Noon-6pm Wed-Sun
Through Apr 29
Blue Star Contemporary Art Center
116 Blue Star

I’ve visited Blue Star’s Monumental Drawings show twice, and I’m still not sure how size matters when graphite and paper meet — maybe because the exhibition’s goal is intentionally inconclusive, “intended to focus on the questions of if, how much, and when size matters in artists’ conceptions of their work,” as curator Barbara MacAdam, who is also deputy editor of ARTNews, writes.

Creating a show around an academic discussion rather than a conceptual juggernaut (Size v. Technique!) doesn’t necessarily give the viewer a psychedelic art high, but Monumental Drawings still affords the pleasure of a really good cigarette and a beakerfull of well-aged scotch: go prepared for contemplation, and focus your attention on the details, starting with Daniel Zeller’s faux topo map, “Partial Distribution,” in which manmade sutures bridge and bind natural fissures, fields, and waterways that are imprinted with random circles — all created on a large scale with tiny repetititive pencil marks that suggest God’s seven-day schedule was rushing things a bit.

Across the gallery, the oxidized waves on Mike Bidlo’s copper-colored sheet echo Zeller’s organic mantle, but “This is not Andy Warhol” is fighting a losing battle: he neither obliterates nor expands on his monumentally iconic predecessor, and the piece is unlucky in timing, too. The McNay just finished showing Warhol’s urine-sprayed canvas silkscreened with a portrait of Jean-Michel Basquiat.

You might already be guessing at one of my colleague’s complaints (which I don’t share): When I come to a drawing show, I expect to see drawing, he said. And MacAdam has included a lot of “drawing” in this installation. But my disappointment with Ryan McGinness’s colorful silkscreens of barbed-wire patterns on brown paper is that in the end it just amounts to really great design (equally hot on a surfboard or rec-room wallpaper). But Nancy Haynes “eulogy for David Madison Haynes,” is deeply affecting. A set of footprints in etching ink imprint one side of the paper; the empty half speaking eloquently of the vacancy left by her twin’s recent death.

I loved Creighton Michaels’s “Scribble 307,” a wall sculpture true to its name created with rope, acrylic, graphite, and paper, more as a photograph detail — where shadow was more evident and the rope’s texture less distracting — but it’s still an interesting exploration of the line in three dimensions. A 1975 untitled portrait by David Remfry is most engaging for the way the sparingly used watercolor raises the paper’s nap enough on a pair of bunnies to give them a Beatrix Potter-worthy animation. I suppose their lifelike size adds to the impression, but scale clearly is crucial to Annabel Daou’s “A minor gesture,” a 2-D sculpture in which the title’s phrase, tape, and gesso become the glue of thoroughfares and repaired cracks in an otherwise undetailed geography. The artist is a native of Lebanon, so it’s not too much of a leap to read violence and failed diplomacy into the ample blank space.

If you find that more than a little sobering, as I did, step out of Monumental Drawings and into Gallery 4 where Katie Pell has used size to make an interactive, enchanting tribute to you, “The Best That I Can Give You and Less Than Half of What You Deserve”: a black-and-white bower of thick foliage and exotic half-beast deities surrounding a heavenly blue sky. Even without the artist there to take your picture, it’s a magical little place to bask in some unsolicited universal love.