Sunday, January 9, 2011

“PILL POPPERS”, FRED TOMASELLI AT THE BROOKLYN MUSEUM

http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/exhibitions/fred_tomaselli/


Being the SoCal surfboard maker dude he was Tomaselli’s exhilarating ride of a mid career survey does hang ten, but he doesn’t catch every wave in this polyurethaned miasma of natural and art history.
Tomaselli’s earlier work that got him a measure of renown in the late 80s featured painstakingly arranged rows of pills and herbal tablets that fan out into psycho pharmacologically inspired mandalas. His signature ”move” of coating his flat creations with a thick pour of poly created a novel visual read, imbuing his montage with an “under glass” intrigue, much as amber entombed insects invite scrutiny.
Speaking of which, as his later work branches out he does indeed begin a fruitful investigation combining art historical, entomological, and ornithological sources that includes intricately cut out images from magazines and books inserted into tightly composed diagrammatic motifs.
However the tactile theatricality of these collages become ornate to a fault. Wherein lies the dilemma inherent with visual art that relies on the literalism of assemblage materials to impress. At worst Tomaselli’s work risks lapsing into a “bar countertop” convention of overly precious eye candy you’d put your beer on and gaze dreamily down at. But then this artist proves his painters savvy when employing abstract gestures that elevate content of works like Echo, Wow, and Flutter to an exalted level of artistic rank.
It pains me to say the uneven nature of this earnest artists efforts result chiefly from his devotion to craft. I admire his dedication to art historical references, and the flora and fauna that inhabit his psyche, but he seems to lose sight of the forest for the trees. He gets so wrapped up in technical execution that some of his work begins to feel forced. To Tomaselli's credit some of the recent panels like “Big Raven” largely forgo the use of extracurricular media, and display a nuanced use of pigment to achieve a taut chromatic scheme and are quite successful.
Yet clunkers like his owls eye piece are bafflingly tiresome clichés of prettily painted pointillism. There are also lapses into Arcimboldo-like portraiture and science museum “transparent body” figuration that if they’d been done with a witty intent might amuse, but here just disappoint.   
You can’t help but enjoy this artist’s overall decorative talents and inventive take on collage; I just wish the polished virtuoso were not so highly prized in today’s art market.

Echo, Wow, and Flutter


Detail, Big Raven.

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