The best thing the sculptor Jill Levine could do right now is to find a comfortable chair and sit down smack dab in the middle of her current exhibition at PPOW. After taking a cold, hard look at the work, she should ask herself if her goals as an artist are good for her art. Ms. Levine makes biomorphic wall sculptures out of darwi, a type of plaster, and then covers every inch of them with meticulously painted, brightly colored Hindu iconography. Each piece is constructed from a finite series of geometric forms-the circle being Ms. Levine’s foundation and mainstay. Her bulbous conglomerations perch on the wall or propel themselves from it; always they establish a self-contained continuity. Despite their dramatic twists and knots, the sculptures attain an immovable equilibrium, adamantly turning in upon themselves. The press release likens them to “Möbius strips.”
We’re also told that Ms. Levine’s painted Hindu “deities bear no relation to the forms that hold them.” You’d think that the gallery would think twice about disseminating such a spot-on critique of the work. The sculptures don’t literally depict Krishna, Ganesh, Vishnu or Shiva, though one could say their hieratic presence keys into a formality typical of iconography. The trouble is that Ms. Levine’s pictorial icons don’t jibe with their supports. Though she does align her Hindu motifs to the sculptures-the visage of a deity, for instance, will glide over four separate surfaces-the spatial warping and woofing is at best clever, at worst Escher-like and hokey. And the proliferation of deities can lead to clutter. Only when Ms. Levine allows pattern- abstract pattern, one should emphasize-to play over the forms does painting sustain sculpture . One can see this happening in parts of All Worked Up (2002), wherein black-and-white striping enhances an already zooming animation. Here’s the best thing that could happen to her work: if Ms. Levine would realize that its will is more important than her own.
Jill Levine: Recent Sculpture at PPOW, 555 West 25th Street, second floor, until June 28.
If the press release for Ms. Levine’s show provides useful fodder for the critic, then take a gander at the press release that accompanies Jeff Perrone’s exhibition at Cheim & Read. When describing Mr. Perrone’s art, it takes some ornate, though not entirely bogus, literary turns. Listen to this: “Drawing upon this communal pool of aesthetic knowledge, and incorporating ‘immigrant’ and recycled materials … [the artist] situates his work within [a] cultural multi-verse, in a reverse colonization process.” Now that politics has been ever so lightly glanced upon (though what “reverse colonization” might entail is never adequately explained), the press release goes on to describe Mr. Perrone’s art as “pidgin painting,” “an aesthetic patois” whose motivation stems from, among other precisely enumerated phenomena, “an Indian woman on 34th Street, in a pink and gold sari under a Harris Tweed blazer, ordering jerk chicken.”
It would be easier to make fun of this florid verbiage if it weren’t for the fact that any New Yorker who takes in the pageant of our streets knows exactly what Mr. Perrone is after: the unlikely and often jarring juxtaposition of radically different cultures. Mr. Perrone’s paintings-really, accumulations of colored sand, buttons, fabric and wood moldings aligned to a vertical stripe format-take their cues from all over the world: Africa, India, North America, Tibet, Oceania. The folk artist inhabits them (Mr. Perrone’s fascination with buttons is a bit nutty) as well as the sophisticate. It takes a person of some taste, after all, to transform such a bewildering stew of precedent into something so dense, so fetching and, well, so goddamned cautious. Mr. Perrone, enamored of his noble pursuit, doesn’t yield to the hedonism that is his birthright. Instead he settles for a plush, self-satisfied lassitude. No gusto, no gain. It’s enough to make you think that as happy as Mr. Perrone is taking in the sights of the city, he’d be happier getting away from them.
Jeff Perrone is at Cheim & Read, 547 West 25th Street, until June 28.
The paintings of Anne Seidman, on display at the George Billis Gallery, put an appealing gloss on the tradition of painting from the grid. She loves the grid for its authority-and loves it more when it slips up and lets wobbly and skewed relationships take root and grow. Painting with acrylic on small formats, Ms. Seidman gives her blocky, cranky compositions a thorough going over: They’re layered and scraped, foamy and lava-like. In a handful of canvases, Ms. Seidman chucks the grid and paints a rickety stack of abstract knick-knacks; here she trades her nudgy muscularity for a generic eccentricity. The generic is, in fact, her defining vulnerability. Each of the pictures, while idiosyncratic, isn’t necessarily individual: Vividness is naggingly absent from the work. This mildness is emphasized by her habit of varnishing the paintings with a matte finish, thereby draining the surfaces of variety and distinction. Which isn’t to say that Ms. Seidman isn’t a charmer, an oddball and a talent: She’s all three, through and through.
Anne Seidman is at the George Billis Gallery, 511 West 25th Street, until June 21.