"The Best Art In The World"
Kelly Berg: Amazonia
Frank Pictures Gallery
April 28 through May 28, 2012
A painting by Kelly Berg is as formidable as a hand-drawn map of a continent, as crisp as an English maze, and as rife with tributaries, thick undergrowth, spasms of life as a rain forest like the one referenced in the show title. Although the eye is given little in the way of comfortable pause, the immense outpourings of dense detail -- here and there punctuated by a self-portrait or two -- seem to have appeared on the pictorial surface fully formed, all at once, so balanced and tight are her structures. Although largely abstract and heavily concerned with patterns, symbols, and pure shapes, the flirtations with pictorial chaos are always resolved in the nick of time, before anything goes wrong or gets broken. The resoluteness of her dark lines like soldering lead speaks of a confidence in draftsmanship far beyond her relatively young age.
Yet it is precisely because of the generation to which she belongs that her threshold for tolerating hyper-saturated visual input is so elevated -- not to mention corralling it into meaningful compositions whose very complexities, though abstractionist, approach narrative in themselves. Her use of self-portraiture deployed at various scales across the different works is an effective strategy at this point in her work. It provides unmistakable permission for the viewer to read the works on the psychological level they seem to hint at. Without her face to indicate the presence of a buried story, the rumor of emotional or at least experiential content, even autobiographical meaning, the viewer might be left to wonder whether it were they themselves projecting aspects of personal consciousness into the fray. But no, you are right, keep digging -- her eyes are clues, affirmations, and challenges that set you upon the journey through the maze.
Still, it is a hard balance to strike; one worries that the self-portraits might eventually become disruptive, distracting, or even outright barriers to more individual interactions with the rest of the paintings once she’s worked out her private equations with this body of work. Berg might become more comfortable with ambiguity, and feel less compelled to help the viewer along, in which case the paintings have a chance to go beyond their current power (where the oomph lies in the surprise appearance of narrative content from the intricate pattern jungle) to a loftier place where a lasting dynamism of slowly revealed potential meanings are constructed over a longer time without enclosed directions for assembly. Or, Berg could take the immense promise of her huge talent in a direction that surprises everyone. She’s done it before, as this exhibition already marked a change from previous work that dealt much more explicitly with the elements of natural world. Whatever the way, she’s one to keep an eye on.
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is the Arts Editor for the LA Weekly, and a contributor to Flaunt, Art and Cake, Artillery, and Palm Springs Life.
She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes essays for books and catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She is a member of ArtTable and the LA Press Club, and sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange, and the Brain Trust of Some Serious Business.
Photo of Shana Nys Dambrot by Osceola Refetoff
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