Featuring a lively mix of high and low sensibilities (modernist austerity, shark’s teeth and disembodied anuses) fused in nervous and unpredictable ways, the fourteen works in artist Josh Dihle’s “Inland Antic” at Valerie Carberry cover an abundance of visual terrain. From uncanny sci-fi landscapes to nonobjective abstractions, to a heavily incised sculptural object, the show’s multifaceted approach to pictorial space is simultaneously its strength and its vulnerability.
At first blush, works such as “Vista I” and “Vista III” are straightforward evocations of an otherworldly land. Dominated by clear blue skies and a kiss of pink along the horizon, their rocky outcroppings and distant mountain ranges are unpopulated and cartoon-like in execution. These deserted compositions are a nod to the depths of renaissance space while assuming the air of impassive theatrical sets. The self-sabotaging gesture of an incised face across “Vista III”’s surface drives the ersatz point home.
The panels “Electrical Storm,” “Erratica” and “Black Swamp” continue to nurture the theme of staged landscape but in more abstract terms. “Electrical Storm,” with its contrasting matte and gloss black surface interrupted by crisp white lines, calls to mind an homage to the flattened space of late-forties-era de Kooning, while “Untitled (Elephant)” does away with landscape altogether and offers a Gorky-inflected psychological space of anus-like openings. Though self-conscious levity underpins most of the pieces on view, it’s difficult to tell whether these quotes are meant to be sincere, ironic, both or neither.
Stylistically wide-ranging, “Inland Antic” develops its twin motifs of space and artificiality via difference, but it comes at the cost of diminished unity. Non-objective works such as “Area” or “Plot” suit the broader context of the show as examples of post-minimalist space, but lack the ambiguous wit and visual traits that redeem and consolidate other works, making their fit an awkward one at best. More a collection of imaginative parts than an authoritative whole, “Inland Antic”’s critique of the spatial structures that govern contemporary painting is perhaps too insular to resonate more widely. (Alan Pocaro)
Through June 6 at Valerie Carberry Gallery, 875 North Michigan.