Vornov's work proves, again, good things come in small packages


October 25, 1990|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Sun Art Critic

In Karen Vornov's multi-part paintings at Knight Gomez (through November 24), there is something of postmodernism, something of the fragmentation of modern-day life, something of the media barrage of stimuli.

In "Riomaggiore," the viewer feels on a roller-coaster of kaleidoscopic colors and conflicting spaces -- in one panel being hurtled into the picture, in another abruptly stopped. "Pigeons in the Ruins" gives us a columned porch and a Palazzo Vecchio-like tower lurching this way and that, as if disoriented. "Sunken Scow" is a series of urban views presented as momentary glimpses.

Vornov's got a good idea going in these but there is something overdesigned about some of her larger, more finished, more visually aggressive works. Some of the smaller studies also included here, such as "Study for Dumpsters," are in certain ways more satisfying -- they are more abstract, their colors are more subdued, they let you participate in a way that "Riomaggiore," for instance, doesn't. There's a point, of course, to Vornov's stridency, but it's off-putting, even if intentional. "Sunken Scow" is one of the most successful works in the show because it walks a line between the bigger and louder works and the smaller and quieter ones.

Carole Jean Bertsch's photographs, most of them hand-colored, depict costumed people in odd, sometimes garish, sometimes vaguely disturbing settings. These, we have the feeling, are people acting out, people being outrageous or strange as a way of dealing with life, of making do with what one doesn't have.

Just as the little kids in "Train Ride" wear adults' clothes because they want to be grown up, just as the young girl in "Wanton" yearns for a sophistication beyond her years, so the adults in other works ("Chameleon," "St. Saidee Statue") leave an impression of a kind of yearning. There's a sadness in these photographs, but there's also a sense of dealing with the sadness that affects all life, so they speak of courage, too. In short, they're affecting.

The grouping of "Foto Fetishes" on one wall, however, does not leave the same impression. Little photos are dressed up in tacky, gaudy frames that make icons of them. One senses that Bertsch is getting at the same point as in her larger photographs, but the deliberate, affected nature of the vulgarity here makes genuine emotion seem somehow out of place.

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