Back in January 2012, Brad Nelson proved that Even Mountains Cast Shadows where the performance art and work celebrated the rocky mountain high. For his second round, he now made whimsical statements on The Idea of Up. One can say that this artist has the penchant for getting high – on the themes for his art and it proved to be another successful show that passed with flying colors last January 15th.
The idea may be simplistic but Nelson made the judicious and insightful effort to add layers to the concept with representational work that added brilliantly to the idea of up. To start off the sky-high aim, the gallery had a plumb line snapped all around the perimeter of the main room, which provided the horizon line. From that reference point, Nelson had a series of paintings and photographic images that straddled the line or perched above it. The works showcased complimented the theme photocopied images of the tops of people’s heads, a great view from the plane window, a multi-media painting with a bright red layer over the gray, and the trompe l’oeil shadow of the massive askew minimalist painting that had to be lit and lined up perfectly. These are the obvious ideas of up and where our orientation is visually focused. But Nelson does not stop there.
There were also mini-installations on the floors as well peppering that much needed spice for this show. A stack of pebbles (which is an homage to his previous show) denoted “stack up”. The slingshot leaning at the base easily means “upshot”. A real looking ceramic banana peel sculpted by Nelson can be “slip up”. A record player by the corner signified “play up”. The measuring stick by the door should be a no brainer as to “measure up”. The small orange level you did not notice would be no other than “level up”. Then the hanger high above the ceiling would be (eye roll please) – “hang up”. I might be wrong but it’s just a pleasure to go on a scavenger hunt to find notions and a play on words for the idea of UP. Art has become too rhetorical and absurdly unexplainable in most cases that it makes me want to – throw up. I find this wry take by Nelson whether he intended it or not as refreshing for once. Whimsical when done in such a way that you are left to discover it on your own terms, now that is upstanding and sublime.
So there are two levels to explore in this show. You are forced to look at eye level, which is the convention, but now you have to observe above and below. Nelson had imbued this show so much about himself and his sensibilities that it’s not a gimmick at all. The 64-inch measuring stick is the eye level of the artist, his photograph of the sky was done on a visit to see his brother in Colorado, and the copied images are parts of his process in the investigation of the work via photocopier. It is in these personal touches that his exploration on the theme translated successfully. His considerable bravado to influence and orient our visual direction in terms of our surroundings are really on the up and up.
It’s a pleasure to make a return visit and see what the artist has crafted as part of the evolutionary process. You hope that their direction would be going forward or as in a graph chart – one can only hope that their stock goes up. Brad Nelson certainly did his ultimate best not to drop the ball and dip below expectations. If you explore the themes that propel you to greater heights then take your viewer there.
The altitude might disorient you for a minute but if you adjust then trust that you’re able to breathe it all in – you can be level headed to acclimate yourself to a higher plane. In art the ideal is that an artist never lets up and Nelson would not be coming in for a landing anytime soon. He’s enjoying the air up there and so should you.
Brad Nelson: The Idea of Up / On View: January 15 – February 22, 2015
Gallery Hours: Wednesday to Sunday (12 – 6 pm)
frosch & portmann. 53 Stanton Street. NYC, NY 10002
Art Review by: Oscar A. Laluyan
Photography by: Olya Turcihin