One of the worst things about summer is also one of the best: it’s transitory. Like an awkward first love affair, that fact that it’s all over so fast is exactly what makes summer such a mythologized season. In the art world, summer is the spiritual home to the group show, a time to test out new ideas or bring together artists still in an experimental phase of their own. Summer Show 2010 at Fourteen30 Contemporary takes the ubiquitous August group exhibition and gives it a raison d’etre by actually being about summer, proving once again that the simplest premise is often the best.
The front and back rooms of the gallery are hung mostly with paintings and photography. In the front, John Sisley’s two pieces Ice and Polaroid 1 and Ice and Polaroid 12 (both 2010) are small black-and-white inkjet prints. 1 shows a set of ice cubes sitting beside an undeveloped Polaroid photograph; 12 shows the now-developed Polaroid (a shot of the original set of ice cubes) next to a puddle of water. The clean, evidence-based approach to depicting a process—here is the start, here is the finish—gives the pieces a quiet gravity and the photograph-in-a-photograph plays with ideas of representation, duplication, and the passage of time. On an adjacent wall, Devon Oder’s Bleed (Tree Cave) (2009) provides a counterpoint to Sisley’s stark vision. The enlarged vintage photograph depicts a sunbleached view of a cave of overgrown brambles and twigs hunkered at the edge of a forest, and it’s unclear whether it’s a natural formation or man-made and abandoned. No matter, it’s an eleven-year-old’s summer reverie, the mysterious thing that she hopes to stumble on during long unsupervised hours. Fingerprints and age spots mar the edge of the photo, attesting to its beloved status: this photograph has been looked at many times, and the smudges make for a wistful feel, conjuring that back-to-school pang of impending bus rides, structured days, and having to wear clean clothes.
In the next room is Jesse Sugarmann’s I’m on Fire (2010), a deliciously masculine two-channel paean to frustrated love. The left screen depicts, in succession, a Lincoln Town Car parked in a field, then backing forcefully into reflective mylar; or a man in a grey suit, sunglasses, and white shoes (presumably the artist) playing an amateurish version of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” on an electric guitar. On the right screen, the same car does hydraulic tricks and falls off cinderblocks; or has the front end propped crazily on (and then falls off) a tall four-by-four; or churns out clouds of smoke that billow over bright green grass and into the hot sky. In the middle of all this, the arms of a forklift bang an old electric keyboard clumsily; later, the forklift lowers the entire car so that one tire mashes the keyboard, honking out a cacophonic accompaniment to the guitar solo on the adjacent screen. Somewhere in all of this is a yearning that manifests itself as a pyrrhic desire to destroy things just to get a little fire going in the middle of a dry month. Whether inspired by real or fictional unrequited love, Sugarmann’s video is pitch-perfect, a charming mix of boyish cool, summer heat, longing, frustration, and semi-dangerous stunts. I left the gallery with Springsteen’s lyrics in my head-
Sometimes it’s like someone took a knife, baby, edgy and dull
and cut a six-inch valley through the middle of my soul
At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
And a freight train running through the middle of my head
Only you can cool my desire
oh, oh, oh, I’m on fire