Beautiful symbols, flat jokes along Nye Gomez walls

January 12, 1993|By John Dorsey | John Dorsey,Art Critic

There are some artists who make the really deep look not so deep -- think of Klee -- and others who make the not-so-deep look deep -- think of Dali.

David Snyder, whose work is on display at Nye Gomez Gallery, amazingly almost manages to do both at once, in the sense that he elicits a response that swings from one extreme to the other.

His works combine elements of sculpture and paintings. Typically, they are either wall reliefs or boxes with an extremely well-crafted frames or enclosures made of copper, sometimes combined with wood. The copper may be wrought in handsome shapes (of a tree trunk, for instance) or elaborately patterned, and beautifully patinated.

These framing elements are so good-looking that we hardly notice at first the small paintings they enclose, which often have aged, crackled surfaces and whose surreal images are shrouded in mystery: a beehive-form hovering over a wall that stretches into an infinite distance, a knife over a vase, or a combination of knife, matches, rope and wood.

At first, these works appear to add up to little beyond their extremely attractive combinations of parts, but then one senses that perhaps there is a message here -- about the planet and its resources, the living spaceship with all its cargo, from micro-organisms to macro-organisms, destroying itself faster than it speeds through space.

These works are pregnant with symbols. In "Homefront" and others, we find a serpent, to remind us of the fall from Eden.

In "The Second Dutch Challenge . . ." there are crosses that turn into swastikas, perhaps to declare that symbols can be used to blur good and evil. The cross has been used for evil purposes, and the swastika is a former symbol of good fortune.

We can see, then, a lot in these works. But what we see, on examination, doesn't seem so original that the statement of it becomes central to the work. And so we end much as we began, thinking that what's really central to these works is the beauty of their craftsmanship, which can provide a full measure of enjoyment.

The show's other featured artist is Tom Dixon, represented by some 80 small works in which he combines drawing, painting XTC and collage, incorporating pictures and pieces of pictures from old calendar art, sort of Currier and Ives stuff. Dixon repeats in paint, on many of these, the silhouette of a hare's head and ears, a kind of motif or perhaps gag running through these seven dozen works.

They are neither attractive nor ugly enough to be interesting. They're supposed to be fun, but the smile soon becomes a yawn. They are not, however, to be taken seriously.

Should the jumbles of bits and pieces of things tempt us to think them iconographically rich, we need only try to make sense of the bits to realize that they add up to a bubble of nothingness that bursts if we try to touch it. That's part of the joke, of course, but 80 such jokes are more than a bit repetitive.

Dixon has been featured in many shows over the last decade, so no doubt this silliness is just a bit of goofing off.


What: Works by David Snyder and Tom Dixon.

Where: Nye Gomez Gallery, 836 Leadenhall St.

When: Tuesdays through Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Through Feb. 6.

Call: (410) 752-2080.

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