My first exposure to Microscope Gallery came in 2014 when I attended the exhibit Kissing Point by Peggy Ahwesh. You can read my review of that show here.
A lot has changed in the intervening years, including the location of the gallery, that moved from its space in Bushwick to its new home at 525 29th Street in Manhattan. The new space, an easy walk from the High Line, provides an excellent setting for the art on display, and the current exhibit – Subtle Subversions – does the space justice.
Ten pieces, by seven artists, form the unique and fascinating narrative of Subtle Subversions. They include photography, sculpture, painting, and mixed-media pieces, and each is worthy of the time and reflection that the gallery invites. I stopped by on a Tuesday afternoon and had the space to myself for exploration at my own pace.
The first thing I noticed on entering the space was the voice of Ayanna Dozier, reading laws that govern the solicitation of sex. 64 Polaroids, stitched together with red thread, and showing the artist in situations that could trigger enforcement of those laws, accompany the recording. Solicitations of Crimes Against Nature is a haunting piece that follows you around the room as you view the other works in this exhibition.
I have admired the work of Morrison Gong for a while and her two pieces in this show – When the world can’t give me answers, I will sail away with my boat, and If I so desire, the moon is at my fingertips – are alone worth the trip to view in person. Morrison’s portraits contain two elements that seem contradictory but become complementary through their lens: urgency and calm. There is something of wildlife photography in these works and it is inextricably linked to the nudity of their subjects. We are all animals after all, and when our artificial coverings are stripped away, our nature – both vulnerable and aggressive – shines through. The titles of the works come from the poetry of Li Bai and while I have been ignorant of those poems until now, I plan to alleviate that part of my ignorance soon.
The two paintings by Vanessa Gully Santiago hit close to home for me, even if my lens on them is decidedly different from that of the artist. These black-and-white works – Managing Assistant and Performance Review – will have a weird familiarity to anyone who has spent time in an office environment. It is hard to imagine an environment on the planet less natural than the office but for those of us who have spent a significant portion of our adult lives in that environment, it is as familiar as the night sweats that wake us up at 3 o’clock.
Another piece that hits close to home for me is Coruscate by Demetrius Oliver. My dad’s family had a lot of coal miners in it and seeing those large chunks the stuff, piled in a suitcase with a bunch of light bulbs, hit a raw nerve. But you don’t need to come from coal mining stock to find something fascinating in the juxtaposition of dark impenetrability with light fragility.
The works of Africanus Okokon, Andrew Paul Woolbright, and Bang Geul Han that are included in this exhibition are no less compelling than the ones I have mentioned and I highly recommend this show – running through July 15 – to anyone looking to spend some time in contemplation of subtle and not-so-subtle subversions of life that exist all around us and are sometimes found up one flight of stairs on 29th Street.