Under development

David Petersen Gallery hosts an ever-changing summer group show

"Untitled (People Painting)" by Chris Johanson. Image courtesy David Petersen Gallery.
"Untitled (People Painting)" by Chris Johanson. Image courtesy David Petersen Gallery.

THE WEDGE — The “Future Developments” showing in early June at David Petersen Gallery may not be the “Future Developments” you get if you visit next month or even next week.

It wasn’t even the “Future Developments” that opened in April. David Petersen is taking a relaxed, off-the-cuff approach to his shape-shifting summer group show, which includes 15 artists (a tally that is subject to change) and will run through July.

Or maybe August. We’ll see.

“It’s all been very improvisational,” Petersen said. “… I’m going to switch it up as I feel like it.”

The show’s second iteration since opening included just 11 works by seven artists, and the majority of them embraced a playful, naive aesthetic. Some were out-and-out childlike, like Al Freeman’s delightful “Gloves and Phones,” a series of 12 oil pastel drawings on paper.

The Canadian-born artist made the large, colorful drawings with her non-dominant hand, and the lines are jumpy, careening, just barely in control. Still, it’s hard to disguise an MFA’s art-school training, and Freeman’s careful spotting of color — a scribble of green here, a slash of pink there — proves the slapdash presentation is just a feint.

The cell phone-and-gloves motif makes you think: Where are the hands? And then it occurs to you that they’ve left their mark in those gleeful gestures.

A comics-literate viewer might look at the two wall-hung mixed-media pieces by Brooklyn artist Alicia Gibson and think of the venerable alt-cartoonist Lynda Barry, who mid-career has become a kind of creativity guru in her position as an art professor and fellow at UW-Madison’s Wisconsin Institute for Discovery. Barry keeps visual notebooks that overflow with writing, cartooning and collage, all of it loose and lively (see: “Syllabus: Notes from an Accidental Professor,” published by Montreal’s Drawn & Quarterly).

Gibson’s riotous canvases — covered in impastoed oil paint, pen scribbles, scraps of paper and even pieces of jewelry — similarly mix words, symbols and images. They feel intimate, like a diary; even if the specific meanings remain cryptic, there’s a sense that these works narrate events in Gibson’s life.

Even rawer, visually, are four small paintings on wood panels by Chris Johanson, a largely self-taught artist associated with the San Francisco’s Mission School art movement. Emerging in the 1990s, Mission School artists, including Barry McGee and Margaret Kilgallen, looked outside of the art world for inspiration, to folk art, graffiti, comics and vernacular visual culture.

Johanson’s crude figuration is reduced to just blobs of acrylic in one painting that resembles a group of people gathered around a maypole. Tendrils of paint connect the figures’ heads and also link to a central point at the top of the painting, which teeters on the edge of abstraction.

Johanson’s work has that special charge typically associated with outsider or folk art. It’s rough, unschooled and direct, bypassing artistic conventions to reach right into the viewer’s unconscious.

Like a joke that sails over your head, three sculptures by local artist Michael Mott were playful but puzzling. “Three Cats Stacked,” a narrow storage chest with drawer pulls that resembled cat faces was easy enough, but a 7-foot-by-5-foot sheet of cardboard on the floor — painted black and perforated with equally spaced holes — was a head-scratcher.

For another sculpture, Mott built a wooden window frame, from head to sill to sash, and hung a plush rose from one of the rails. The window casing had extra material in the upper corners, and Mott left these areas rough and splintered, as if to imply that he chiseled the whole piece out of one solid block of wood.

The anchor of the show is a different sculpture, this one by Aaron Spangler, another Minnesota artist. Constructed from 18 sheets of carved and painted basswood, “Template” sits heavily on the gallery floor like a cello case tipped on its side. One chiseled surface is covered in complex patterned marks that variously resemble a tilled field, a brick walkway or a patchwork quilt, as well as images of outstretched arms.

Its folky, outsider-ish qualities resonate most strongly with Johanson’s paintings, although it has a totally different feeling — totemic, enigmatic and even mystical. The chiseled marks range from primitivist patterning to the more dynamic, geometric lines of constructivism or Art Deco.

Over the winter, the Walker Art Center commissioned a new piece from Spangler for the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. The plan is to cast one of Spangler’s basswood sculptures in bronze, to be installed when the garden reopens after renovations in 2017, and some more quality time with Spangler’s work will be very much appreciated.

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“Template” by Aaron Spangler. Image courtesy David Petersen Gallery.

Future Developments

When: Through at least July 22, but probably longer

Where: David Petersen Gallery, 2018 Lyndale Ave. S.

Info: davidpetersengallery.com, 276-6541

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