Tell It Slant

April 13, 2019

in Museums and Galleries

Exhibition
Works by David Curcio, Monique Johannet, Adrienne Sloane, Antoinette Winters
Room 83 Spring
83 Spring Street, Watertown, MA
March 9 – April 20, 2019

Monique Johannet, 'Mr. Right'

Monique Johannet
“Mr. Right”
Photo: Charles Munitz for Boston Arts Diary
With permission of Room 83 Spring

A small but potent show of works which, for the most part, incorporate oblique verbal messages within the contexts of their plastic constructions.

Tell It Slant is from the end of the first line of the Emily Dickinson poem which begins:

Tell all the truth but tell it slant —
Success in Circuit lies
Too bright for our infirm Delight
The Truth’s superb surprise…

In other words, don’t deliver the package straight on, full force; tell it, but do so seductively, by indirection.

Room 83 Spring, near Watertown Square, is a delightful collaborative small gallery that manages to draw interesting artists and varied shows. Tell It Slant is no exception. It brings together works of four quite different but persuasive artists, all of whom use verbal elements in their works to help deliver a message. And all do so, in alternative modes of keeping with Dickinson’s prescription, to deliver it with angularity, and sometimes with more overt and brash forms the overtones of which reverberate more subtly and indirectly.

David Curcio, 'Save Your Strength'

David Curcio
“Save Your Strength”
Photo: Charles Munitz for Boston Arts Diary
With permission of Room 83 Spring

David Curcio creates works on paper that frequently feature what looks like a public building of some sort, with small emblems around the periphery, perhaps featuring birds or mammals and including various sorts of intense and sometimes heartbreaking verbal messages.

Time To Go includes the emblem “I don’t care” with an origami paper crane, and “grief” or “despair” with other birds. A cosmic purple background with quasi-constellations and its terrestrial anchor in the center are subtended on the top margin saying “take your time.” Good idea!

His Save Your Strength offers another house surrounded by small creatures. Crying birds at the top with longer verbal emblems proliferate. One can almost miss a small coffin on the bottom with “run out” on it. True to Dickinsonian brevity and encapsulated, ironically tinged, pessimism, it offers both a pained grimace and a wry smile.

Antoinette Winters, 'Either and Or' detail

Antoinette Winters
“Either and Or” detail
Photo: Charles Munitz for Boston Arts Diary
With permission of Room 83 Spring

Antoinette Winters creates verbal icons in vivid colors on colored webbed fields, as though the messages hid within the patterns. Sometimes the sequences of words jump right out coherently, at other times they crumble and slip out with tentative attempts at meaning.

Sometimes Making Something Leads to Nothing is one of those which has a direct, blunt, and funny message that, in an odd way, controverts itself. The “nothing” that this piece has led to actually demonstrates, in its ferocious declaration, an oppositional significance to its statement.

This is your last chance looks so buoyant, as the others so beautifully colored, and is so desperate. Posterlike and seemingly positive in its design, its message is a downward slant that somehow, with humor, also points upwards – it depends where you put your head.

Monique Johannet, 'Charmer'

Monique Johannet
“Charmer”
Photo: Charles Munitz for Boston Arts Diary
With permission of Room 83 Spring

Monique Johannet’s Charmer is a flat-against-the-wall mobile of sorts, with C-H-A-R-M-E-R spelled out in blocks across the top and with various items – mostly related to animal death – strung below. A fly trap and a couple of fish-hooks spell those entrapments quite clearly, while a hypodermic needle is slightly more indirect but gets its message across. A double image “Yes/No” hangs at the left, presumably calling out to one who might be subject to charms, demanding a choice. The most ambiguous part of the sculpture is the hanging tambourine which seems not to have any obvious destructive association. It adds music and rhythm to the piece, but its semiotic significance is not apparent.

Rip Tide, also by Johannet, is a painting with the words “Rip” and “Tide” going in opposite directions, pulled apart laterally, and distinguished with light and dark bands vertically. Her “Sweet Talk/Swallow It” is a larger, three dimensional, construction that spreads the phrase “Sweet Talk” across the wall, and “Swallow It” in a tank placed on the floor with a hook suspended above it. Its message is clear and funny, but somehow the adjustment of the symbolic elements is balanced arrays make in heartbreaking and potent as well. “The Way They Teach Levitation” is a string of words suspended from the ceiling, with a rope cleated and coiled nearby. One wonders, of course, if this is true.

And Johannet’s Mr. Right is an array of statements that summarize emotional ambiguity, expectation, variable projection, and indecisiveness into one wonderful swirl, leaving it ambiguous whether this is about three people, one person, or nobody. In one phrase, it sums up something about the variabilities of relationship, and it seems to hit its mark with humorous understatement.

Adrienne Sloane, 'The Unraveling'

Adrienne Sloane
“The Unraveling”
Photo: Charles Munitz for Boston Arts Diary
With permission of Room 83 Spring

Adrienne Sloane creates works with wordplay and reportage on various forms of embroidered constructions, and sometimes on fiberworks of other sorts. The preponderance of them seem to be reflections on the Trump presidency.

Groper’s Word Search is exactly that – an embroidered word search puzzle with names of people associated with our fear(less/ful) leader’s various presumed exploits. CDC Anagram is another panel inspired by George Carlin’s routine The Seven Words You Can’t Say on Television. 100 Days of Fictionary celebrates lies told by Trump. And, a large, vivid and significant piece, The Unraveling exhibits a knit American flag gradually pulled apart as time goes on. Apparently, with each passing day and with each exhibition, Sloane unravels more of it.

This may just give a taste of the whimsy, pointedness and poignancy of the series of works on display in this concise but convicing and effective exhibition. It’s only on another week, so try to catch it!

NB: For those interested in Emily Dickinson, check out the recent guest commentary on Boston Arts Diary by Alfred Clemente: Rediscovering Simplicity and Sacredness in Emily Dickinson.

– BADMan

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