Friday, April 23, 2009

Art & Design
Art in Review

‘Who Invented the Avant Garde (and other half-truths)’
‘The Sleeper Experiment’

177 North Ninth Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Through May 17

Drawing with ink and paint on sheets of Mylar in a precise, cartoonish style, Ward Shelley creates eccentric, wordy flow charts that analyze particular historic developments. “Addendum to Alfred Barr” extends into the postmodern era a famous analysis of Modern art movements diagramed by Barr, the founding curator of the Museum of Modern Art.
It concludes with “pluralism” and “smart art,” which Mr. Shelley defines in another art historical diagram as “the strategy of making your art interesting against the background of all other art.” Most of his works have to do with art, but one documents the early career of Frank Zappa, and another details the lives of the Beat writers.
You may wish that Mr. Shelley would pursue his research into less familiar territory, as did, for example, Mark Lombardi, who diagramed global financial, political and military conspiracies. Other possibilities are suggested in the gallery’s backroom, where Mr. Shelley has installed hundreds of cardboard boxes, each with an amusing label describing its supposed contents: “Pandora’s Socks” and “Submerging Artists,” for example.
In the middle of the room boxes are stacked to create a small room within a room where Mr. Shelley is spending his days sleeping (until Thursday). At night he produces more drawings based on suggestions that gallery visitors are invited to submit in writing.
By now, people sleeping in galleries or museums have become a cliché. It is Mr. Shelley’s beaverish and idiosyncratic processing of information that is most compelling. .........KEN JOHNSON