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May 7, 2010 - May 28, 2010

Read Gerry Canavan's review of "Crash" (The Independent)


Crash - May 2010

It is possible that “crash” can evoke more fear and discomfort than any other word in contemporary English usage. While it lacks any taboo status in the censoring of vocabulary, it frequently heralds a precipitous decline or violent damage. In this exhibition featuring the works of Sharon Beth Dowell, Shaun Richards, and Derek Toomes, each artist examines the significance that the concept exerts over modern life.

Sharon Beth Dowell’s work is typically characterized by vaguely abstracted works of the urban landscape, and the exhibition’s painting Near the Twelve does include such imagery. One could easily view her work in light of the recent housing crash. However, she chooses to also provide pieces which suggest technology’s intricate circuitry and data boards, those mechanisms which may trigger temporary, though significant, crashes of information. The juxtaposition between the two is especially potent. When considering an apartment building against the unknown patterns of what resembles a computer chip in Up Down/London, Paris, a viewer can read social significance in the comparison. Man can be housed among his kind in as unfeeling, disconnected, and fallible a manner as data streams.

The paintings and their accompanying studies by Shaun Richards – most of them recently executed during his residency at the Bemis Center for Contemporary Arts – position themselves against the spectacle of the car crash as popularized by John Chamberlain’s sculptures and Andy Warhol’s Death and Disaster series. Just as Chamberlain employed crushed frames of cars to explore formal properties in three dimensions, Richards uses them to display his technical prowess over the painting medium. In his further incorporation of collaging, stenciling, and other media practices, however, he adds a conceptual layer to the works. Warhol underlined the automobile crash’s appeal as a public spectacle over private tragedy. Instead, Richards, in tying crashes to America’s crippled automobile industry (Crash #1 – National Treasure) or disappearing landscapes (Crash #2 – Lost Highway), negates the very concept of a private tragedy. Catastrophic events may ripple outwards to affect the multitudes.

Derek Toomes employs his own mixed media pieces to investigate the line between a natural loss of innocence and a later tumble into moral depravity. Inspired, in part, by J.G. Ballard’s 1973 novel of sex and violence, Crash, Toomes looks at the individual culpability that plays into destructive decisions. Ballard writes in Crash that “[he] saw the whole world dying in a simultaneous automobile disaster, millions of vehicles hurled together in a terminal congress of spurting loins and engine coolant.” Toomes’s work intrigues because one realizes that every person faces a loss of innocence; it is only the degree to which it affects an individual that may be controlled.

The compelling and fascinating aspect of witnessing a crash of any kind is that it is contained entirely in a moment. At a point of impact, the past disappears and the future is unsettled. In this regard, the exhibition questions, rather than answers, how these current readings and relationships will go on to affect society.

Lauren Turner 2010


Exhibition Image