“The Props Assist the House” is a lovely meditation on the magic that happens when simple things and patient labors meld to form wholes far greater than the sum of their parts.
The eight-artist exhibition at Bel Ami gallery in Chinatown takes its title from a poem Emily Dickinson wrote in 1863. At once humble and ambitious, Dickinson’s concise lines and the modestly scaled objects in the exhibition expose us to a world in which meaning seeps, slowly and steadily, from the mundane stuff all around us.
Nearly all 26 works are slow reads. No instant takeaways are to be found among its materially diverse arrangements of stuff. Abstraction predominates. Texture, not message, is the focus. Palette matters. As does composition, particularly in terms of juxtaposition and layering.
Nancy Lupo and Ana Tiscornia play with scale. Lupo transforms ordinary ice trays into symmetrical structures that resemble old-fashioned radiators. Tiscornia turns construction materials — plaster, tile and wood — into intimate evocations of infinity.
Liliana Porter uses tiny figurines, often found in model-train dioramas, to suggest that observing the world through the eyes of a kid is a great way to see things you’d otherwise miss. The same is true of Milano Chow’s two pictures of silhouetted figures glimpsed through the windows of Beaux-Arts apartments and William Leavitt’s three lithographs, each of which is as simple as an assembly-required diagram and as suspenseful as a mystery novel.
The worlds-within-worlds structure of the exhibition takes vivid form in three pieces installed together. Benjamin Reiss’ writing table made of pine, oak, basswood, fiberboard and steel functions as a pedestal for Paul Salveson’s abstract sculpture and Eric Veit’s figurative one. Pencil holders and paperweights come to mind, drawing visitors into a reality that is under construction — just like the one described by Dickinson, in her 55-word poem.
That’s not much longer than a tweet. But, like the exhibition, it opens us to the mysteriousness of simple things, especially when brought together just so.
When: Wednesday-Saturday, through Sept. 21
Info: (209) 553-0392, belami.info