‘Idiom II’ at Pierogi

'People of the Book (Diaspora) V.2' (2012) by Ward Shelley. (Courtesy the artist and Pierogi)
‘People of the Book (Diaspora) V.2’ (2012) by Ward Shelley. (Courtesy the artist and Pierogi)

The relationship between content and form has a funny symmetry. When the maps and charts in this second installment of a powerful group show—the first installment concerned the suspension of disbelief—turn that relationship inside out, you get the feeling that it’s somehow different, but of course, it still works the same.

The gorgeous watercolor of Justin Amrhein’s Jade Vine, a hanging flower with claw-like turquoise blossoms poking out from indigo stems, is surrounded by intricately conceived and drawn, meticulously labeled diagrams of the components and stages of an entirely imaginary robotic surrogate flower. Seven turquoise dots around the page activate the graphite drawings and careful, all-caps lettering to make the whole a single composition. Beth Campbell’s more freeform organic decision trees, building up handsome, cloud-like drawing from what look like spontaneous cursive pencil notes connected with unworried wavy lines, are also excellent stories: My Potential Future Based on Present Circumstances, 1/8/03 fans out possible directions her own life might take, depending on whether she buys a new vacuum cleaner and, if so, for how much; My Presents Past and its Potential Future (or all the things that had to happen and some that never will) adds alternate histories and futures in blue.

Ward Shelley’s People of the Book (Diaspora) V.2, an extraordinary, six-foot-long vascular timeline in oil paint and toner, runs from Abraham’s appearance in Ur, between a venous little wiggle for Zoroaster and a tan parenthesis for Akhenaten to the Kabbalah Centre. It covers religious, cultural, geographic and demographic currents all with the same brilliantly intuitive, loosely organic organization. The Parthian Empire makes one strand, the Golden Age of the Sephardim another, and the Likud Party in Israel a third, while the Shoah plunges down vertically in blood red and briefer or more exactly dateable phenomena like the false messiah Sabbatai Zevi or the 1640 arrival of Jews in New York are marked with little arrows. Until March 9, Mr. Shelley, along with Alex Schweder, will be performing an even more miraculous trick at the gallery’s Boiler space on North 14th Street, as they live on the outer and inner rims, respectively, of a 30-foot wooden Ferris wheel with furniture attached.

(Through March 16, 2014) ‘Idiom II’ at Pierogi