January 30, 2009

Broad Shoulders deserves brotherly love

As with so many shows at the Hyde Park Art Center, viewers feel the brightly-colored echoes of the artworks’ patron saints—in this case, the famed collective Hairy Who—from the first work in Broad Shoulders and Brotherly Love: Prints form the Archives of Anchor Graphics and Philagrafika. Home Jackson and Sherman Fleming’s 2006 silkscreen “The New Face of Uncle Tom” depicts oversized playing cards sporting representations of their titular themes: “Fresh,” “Patience,” and “First,” instead of the usual jacks, queens, and kings.

Moving forth to the next print, one is unsure how this exhibit will pan out: Will these all be homages to Hairy Who? Or will purely political proclamations triumph? The next work seems to answer the question. It’s a work of graffiti art with rounded blocks of solid color in twisting, contorted shapes, as if from a crazed child’s trippiest nightmare. Isaac T. Lin’s 2002 “Untitled” offers up bubbly pink ghosts and round-toothed, red-eyed dragons. If I were promised ink-laden dreams of such oddly confectionary ghouls, I’d load up on all of the Children’s Advil in the world.

Some of the other, less-colorful works seem mundane in comparison. An untitled etching by Lauren Adelman of Anchor Graphics portrays pinkish abdominal organs laid over a topographical map of Annawan, IL. The viewer comes away with no sense of Adelman’s governing logic or reason. This etching and others like it seem to contribute little to the exhibit.

On the other hand, these less vivid artworks with incomprehensible aims do give the viewer time to breathe, while providing contrast with more riveting works. William Earl Williams’s “Schuylkill Friend Meetinghouse Ground,” for example, becomes fascinating next to Adelman’s inexplicable etching. Williams’s print shows a dilapidated stone wall, shadowed by trees, intriguing for the sharp focus of the bark’s every groove despite difficult lighting conditions.

Some of these works are in collage form—gripping as Matisse’s paper-and-scissors phase, but more detail-oriented, as if Matisse had moved on to super artsy children’s pop-up books. Specifically, Lydia Diemer’s five mixed-media monoprints are perhaps the most enthralling of the exhibit. Diemer’s patience with scissors and glue pays off entirely in the glorious symphony of shapes she creates.

Jim Houser’s 2001 screenprint “Bursts” questions the merits of capitalism in a blocky format that mixes type and simple images in a style reminiscent of ’60s rock show posters. In a free block next to an angular orange fire burst, we read: “The product was very expensive but also very well made. Unfortunately it was also quite popular with thieves. The company faced a huge loss and was forced out of business….” I’m not sure what advice an analysis of this print might bear for victims of a recession, but reading Houser’s badass prose-poem vignettes is sure to cheer them up temporarily.

Joe Immen’s three untitled lithographs dare to be discerning to their ideal viewers. A blue-and-black poster looks like an experiment in playful fonts, but then you read it: “I am seeking a viewer who has: 1. visual taste buds that can appreciate the full flavor of my visual cuisine. 2. a capacity for philosophical reflection. 3. a highly developed and sensitive subjectivity that is accessible via reflected light waves.” If you’re seeing this exhibit, you’re far too cool to stoop to personal ads. Given that, however, you really should see this show.