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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Eunjung Hwang and Ati Maier at UAlbany Art Museum

When you've been to as many shows at as many venues as I have, you start to see patterns emerging, curatorial consistencies that hold up over time from one place to another. So, while the current pair of solo shows at the University at Albany Art Museum are fairly cutting-edge, they hold few surprises, because they cleanly fit into the curatorial pattern that has been established there.

Eunjung Hwang: Three Thousand Revisits and Ati Maier: Event Horizon are presented separately, though they have enough in common to be compatible: both artists have created their own fantasy worlds populated by cartoon-type characters, and both have turned to digital video as an extension of their drawing and painting habits. It also happens that each is an immigrant living in New York City, which may inform the inside/outside perspective their works embody.

But here the similarities taper off quickly. Huang, who is female and was raised in Korea, has a simplified style of drawing and painting that pulls from dreams and Buddhist concepts of the spirit world to create quasi-narratives that often feature brutal violence and orgiastic behavior, yet somehow remain charmingly naive.

Maier, who is also female, grew up in Munich, Germany, and was educated in Vienna. Her extremely vivid palette harks back to the groundbreaking approach of certain European painters of about a century ago, but Maier is clearly looking forward as she crafts visions of otherworldly experiences that are heavily influenced by science fiction and graffiti.

Despite a great deal of visual complexity and sophisticated layering techniques, much of Maier's work feels superficial, even decorative. It has that art-fair commercial air about it. Three large pieces that form a group on one long wall depict roller-coasterish landscapes that could be in outer space or underwater; their corners are rounded, an odd affectation that adds to the commercial flavor of the work.

Two constellations of smaller works mirror this style (and each other, with perfectly matched configurations of size and shape), though the earlier the works go (back to about 2002), the more clearly they show a diversity of influences including anime and geometric abstraction.

Maier's two videos in the exhibition are animated versions of these garishly hued adventurescapes. The one titled Space Rider seems to imitate a video game such as Tron; the longer one (over 7 minutes) is more ambitious - titled Event Horizon, it clearly aims to depict visually what can never be seen in reality: the activity at the edge of a black hole.

Hwang also takes influences from video games (specifically Pac-Man) as well as anime, but her approach seems much more personal than Maier's. Whereas Maier seems to be trying to impress us with her skill and flash, Hwang seems compelled by uncontrollable impulses to obsessively draw and redraw an endless series of very small critters and characters (hence the show's title) that may make no sense at all to the viewer but must have an existence nevertheless.

Whether in the many animated videos on view here (actually, they are countless, as several small monitors show many very short snippets, while other larger monitors show countable longer films), or in the series of 15 22-by-28-inch pencil drawings titled What We Are You Will Be, or even in the five inflatable sculptures that depict some of her creatures in larger form, Hwang's world remains her own - we are merely spectators.

A couple of early videos from 2001 retain narrative threads (one is unironically titled If You Play With Ghosts, You'll Become a Real Ghost), but the more recent work, often titled Future Creatures, is more free-flowing and circular. In these, Hwang employs several different styles, including line drawings, watercolor, smoothly digitized color, and a combination of her images with calendar-art landscape photographs.

If you liked the style of Peter Max, you may like the darker underbelly that Hwang explores in a similar way. Equally, if psychedelia turns you on, you will probably get into Maier.

Both artists will be present at a closing reception set for 5 to 7 p.m. on Friday, April 1, which was scheduled because the show's opening reception was cancelled by a snow storm. The show ends on April 2.

Rating: Recommended

Artworks shown (from top):
Ati Maier - Savvy, airbrush, ink, woodstain on paper, 2010
Ati Maier - video still from Event Horizon, 2010
Eunjung Hwang - video still from Future Creatures, 2009
Eunjung Hwang - What We Are You Will Be, pencil on paper, 2010
Eunjung Hwang - video still from Future Creatures, 2009

Note: An earlier version of this post had misidentified Maier as male. I regret the error, which has been corrected. - db

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