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Chelsea Now

The art of interpreting doublespeak World capitals are calling on Chelsea in three shows
 
 — By JEFFREY CYPHERS WRIGHT

 

If you didn’t get out of town for the holidays, you can still satisfy that travel jones by visiting Chelsea. Three shows that deal with capital cities triangulate our views about where we do the business of ruling. The work in each show depicts, documents and questions our seats of power and the state they’re in.

Beginning with personal experiences and memories in Washington D.C. during the Reagan era’s Cold War climate, Colin Montgomery splits his images. Bringing to mind shadow figures and the shady network of communications informing government, the exhibition at Perry Rubenstein Gallery is titled “After Images.” What at first seems noble and pure is recast as dubious, even sinister.

The upcoming inauguration adds to the potency of this show. The Capitol dome rises augustly, its white marble arching into a pale sky in “View from 101 Constitution Avenue.” The “View” is framed perfectly by a large window that we are looking out of. We gaze across a balcony, the guardrail forming a strict horizontal counterpoint to the window that is vertically divided. To the right of the divide part of the Capitol is repeated.

This trompe l‘oeil effect calls to mind the binary focus of binoculars and associations with the double lives of espionage. Clandestine and remote, the Capitol is shunted back, undermining its majesty.

Montgomery, who attended Yale’s graduate program in art, also draws attention to our own double lives as he examines his adolescence and re-understands the implications of his personal geography.

Geography is first transmitted via the Internet and media and then re-portrayed in Daniel Rich’s “Downburst” at Perry Rubenstein Gallery. The opposite of a tornado, a downburst is a meteorological activity wherein the winds blow out all ways at once. Rich is interested in how reproductions of events and places are transmitted and their consequent shaping of perceptions across the world.

While relying on photographs, Rich’s depictions are actually highly detailed paintings. A native of Germany, he meticulously recreates images and, in the translation from one medium to another, he invites us to take a clarified and rarified new look.

Baghdad is the subject of most of the paintings in “Downburst.” “Saddam” shows a blasted monument that suggests vandals as much as saviors. Rich chose this image when he learned that U.S. troops were ordered to destroy all effigies of the fallen dictator.

At 96 inches wide, “Saddam Grand Mosque, Baghdad,” is the most ambitious painting in the show. Low dwellings form a speckled geometric background of slightly varied hues stretching out across a dun plain. Rich’s crisp lines are the result of masking areas with tape and here there. In the foreground the dome of a mosque is about to be built. Cranes on both sides stand as sentinels over the unfinished future as Iraq begins to secure its destiny.

Rich instigates a dialogue between the initial image and his resulting copy. His choice of a scene coupled with his method of painting, monumentalizes the events depicted while maintaining neutrality.

Actual monuments (like a statue of Mao) and recognizably iconic locales (Tiananmen Square) are the setting for O Zhang’s portraits of urban Chinese teens at CRG Gallery. The result: Punk pop meets the Cultural Revolution.

A red banner emblazoned with Chinese characters lies across a passageway. One whole wall mural proclaims, “Long live the great unity of the people of the world.” And in staged photos a culture (or subculture) seeks its own identity while embracing globalism.

Each of the youngsters wears a bold tee shirt with au courant slogans, albeit a bit mangled and sometimes humorous. “Ellte.” “Love Haney.” “Thow your hands up for China.”

“Everything is sh-t,” a cutie’s tee jarringly asserts. Behind her the modern neon signs seem deflated by the declaration. Her “I heart China” bag, though alluring, suddenly appears cheap. Juxtaposed with these portraits are ubiquitous sayings from the Cultural Revolution. This one reads, “Poverty is not Socialism.”

Zhang’s brand of candy colors and perky kids provides an entry point for a deeper look at economic and social balances.

The loaded symbols contrast with each other and magnify their disparities while calling for parity. Wouldn’t it be nice if it were “all good in the hood” — and the whole world was the hood.