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Alan Singer at Gallery at Bausch & Lomb

Realism or expressionism: which one do you trust?

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Two new exhibitions, one currently at the Gallery at Bausch & Lomb Place and an upcoming one at the Mercer Gallery at MCC, feature the work of Alan Singer. Meta/morph at Bausch & Lomb juxtaposes Singer's watercolor and digital transfer monoprints with Tarrant Clements' predominately wood, wire, and oil paint constructions. At the Mercer, Singer will share the space with Robert Heischman and his seductive and perspectively "perfect" garden views.

Although both Singer's and Clements' work can be described as abstractions alluding to subjective self-expression, Singer's more obviously includes figuration and believable space. An exception is Singer's fairly large oil painting "Tropic-anna," which consists of two multi-colored panels reminiscent of a geological cross-section of different strata. Although seemingly non-representational, the painting could also allude to both a reduced landscape in extreme detail, and via its title, to a person---Anna from the tropics. (Interestingly, the late Cuban-American artist Ana Mendieta referred to herself as Tropic-Ana on her answering machine.)

The latter work not withstanding, the rest of Singer's work refers to more specifically recognizable subject matter --- at least through the titles. Works called "Pearl Diver," "City by the Sea," and "Shoals, The Sirens" draw attention to some kind of particular place and culture or, at the very least, to how one might feel about these exotics. Still other titles refer to more loaded subject matter, as in the very private statement of "Family Matters." But the works that seem to dominate are also more socially motivated statements. "A Political Frenzy," "Event Horizon," "A Political Faux Pas," "Smoke Sign," and "Parade Ground" take our minds elsewhere, away from Gauguin's utopic vision of the cultures of the South Pacific and toward something more current.

Of course, any sense of the political comes to us mostly by way of the titles. They are the keys for directing us away from the more personal and expressionistic vision of the artist and into the world of the "real." In "A Political Frenzy" we are confronted with a swirling world reminiscent of a highly stylized, Dali-esque landscape --- one full of tornadoes and swirling vortices, barely distinguishable human faces and the Cartesian grids of Western logic.

Where the artist stands in relation to the political has been a debate that has actively concerned our culture for the past 150 years or so. Should art be political? Should politics be overtly visible, or should they be mixed into the subjective vision of the individual artist? All of these questions come down to the possibility or impossibility of a truthful, objective, and impartial picture of the real world. Is the world visible by a meticulous observation of contemporary life, or is the mediation through the extreme self the way into a subconscious and possibly universal view of a human condition? Realism or Expressionism? Which do we trust?

Clements' work goes beyond Singer's in its quest for the personal view. Even the titles, although seemingly coded and therefore logical, such as "W-45" or "S-3", do not reveal themselves in relation to the work but speak of a private system of identification. Of course, Clements' work also uses another now-familiar code, that of reduction of form into geometries and organic forms. "W-1," a construction made of painted wood, appears to "quote" one of the most extreme non-representational expressionists, Piet Mondrian. Mondrian's vision was to reduce the world of representation to subtle variations of verticals and horizontals as well as into black and white and primary colors so that we can all understand its language. Ironically, we understand the abstractions of corporate logos much more than those private decisions of the painter in his or her studio.

Both Clements' and Singer's work are finely crafted objects that express individual visions within the context of Western aesthetic culture. They are two points on a scale between wishes for unmediated objectivity and pure subjectivity, both imagined and yet unattainable.

meta/morph: paintings, prints, and dimensional works by Tarrant Clements and Alan Singerthrough November 17 | The Gallery at One Bausch & Lomb Place, Clinton Avenue & Court Street | Monday-Friday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.; Saturday 8 a.m.-2 p.m. | Free. | 473-4115.