Artists deal with always-complex times; if they aim for largeness, like Whitman, their work will contain multitudes of contradictions — as does the work of Michael Hall and Ethan Worden at Swarm Gallery. Building on current art thinking, these young artists aim at a personal vision, but they also exude contemporary art’s inescapable atmosphere of irony and paradox.
The antithetical issues of security and freedom interest Hall. The imagery for his 24 Search Results paintings derives from search-engine photos having no apparent connections beyond keywords: a lunar astronaut posing with flag, a teen playing Twister, a donkey suspended midair by the upended cart to which it is yoked, two men in a rowboat, a banister and chain leading down a curved staircase, a man wearing vinyl on his shoulders like a cape, pigeons around a coiled rope, and soldiers at attention beneath a splotch of white paint. The world is indeed a vast congeries of disconnects, but the Internet is hardly new in revealing this: the Surrealists drew on dictionary pictures, prizing the absurdities of alphabetical ordering, and television’s breathless alternation between tragic, comic, and commercial (not forgetting sports and weather) has long been criticized as crazy-making. More compelling are Hall’s twelve Collisions paintings, dramatically cropped views of totaled Chevies, Volvos, and Hondas in various states of crumpled roadside outrage (no people are shown). The voluptuous painting of these scenes draws the eye in a way that the looser, schematic handling of the Internet paintings does not, and the theme resonates with a driving, driven people: everyone crashes — or rusts.
Worden, interested in the discrepancies between objects and their conceptualizations as word or model, wants to “loosen the ties between the stories we assign to an object and that object itself.” “Stanchions” reproduces in miniature the familiar movie-line velvet rope; it bunches up into a tangle just short of the clifflike shelf over which it plunges. “Scaffold” recreates in brass and wood the gridded exoskeletons surrounding buildings under repair or construction, but his scaffoldings without buildings become a kind of theater set or X-rayed city. “Palindromed Billboard” is a wooden model of kissing-cousin billboards sharing their important messages (perhaps “A Toyota”) only with each other — bookends without books, buttresses without cathedrals. When did everything stop making sense? Junction runs through July 27 at Swarm Gallery (560 Second St., Oakland). SwarmGallery.com or 510-839-2787.