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Critics’ Picks: Evidence of the Paranormal

By Michael Wilson

December 2, 2009

Charles and Ray Eames aren’t often associated with the otherworldly; rather, the influential designers are customarily linked to practical—if inspired—rationalism. In curator Chris Sharp’s elegant, teasing group show, however, the famous couple find themselves in unprecedented dialogue with the occult. The Eames’s short film Blacktop, a Story of the Washing of a School Play Yard, 1952, a poetic, formal observation of the flow of soapy water over dark asphalt, is here lent a spooky vibe, swirling bubbles now suggesting the spectral goop of ectoplasm. Similarly, Per Martensson’s small, precise paintings of vacant gallery interiors are recontextualized as images of the invisible, of earthly spaces colonized by ethereal spirits. But as Sharp does not hesitate to remind us, his is an exhibition of “questionable import, doubtful veracity, and possibly misleading intentions.” What he presents may be less, more, or even—strangest of all—exactly what meets the eye.

That the show features work by artists of such wildly diverse backgrounds provides one clue to what might really be happening here. In suggesting that Becky Beasley’s mute wedge of wood and glass has something in common with Luca Trevisani’s diagrammatic balloon cluster or Goran Petercol’s linear sculptural intervention, Sharp aims not to out their makers as secret ghost-busters, but rather to underscore that meaning itself is a quarry—one just as captivating, and just as elusive, as the supernatural. As Marianne Vierø’s photographs of rearranged hotel furniture and Will Yackulic’s painted, collaged, and typewritten vortex on paper also demonstrate, formal experiment can be stranger than anything consigned to the X-Files.