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In and Out of Whack’ wonderfully twists grand and restrained art styles at CAC

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Kimberly Hennessy has a grand style that works surprisingly well with Deborah Karpman’s taut execution. See them together at the Contemporary Arts Center.

In Deborah Karpman’s collage series “Mega Ruins in Microtimes,” tiny shapes align themselves systematically across the page. Although it’s hard to discern their identity (little hammers? birdhouses? flags?), each is vaguely familiar in cut and color. Duplication of the same essential shapes in alternate iterations creates a familiarity without revealing meaning: a series of symbols for the viewer to deconstruct, like minute runes perfectly spaced on the pages of an aging manuscript. “Reading” them from left to right, a textual structure emerges, and the little arcing slivers become hieroglyphic Lilliputian mysteries.

Cut to Kimberly Hennessy’s “Blue Velvet,” a watercolor drawing swimming in DayGlo flags and first place ribbons. The streaming orange flags float up, then turn and fall flat, criss-crossing a clean white page: access denied. The absolute abandon of Hennessy’s imagery and expressive style stands in stark contrast to Karpman’s cool, taut rigor, but each hold secrets not readily given away.

Obsession and repetition are emergent common denominators in the creative dialogue between Alabama’s Karpman and the New York-based Hennessy, currently paired in the CAC’s In and Out of Whack. The exhibition forces a microscopic examination of the seemingly disparate duo.

The Details

In and Out of Whack
Four stars
Through August 13
Contemporary Arts Center, 107 E. Charleston Blvd., Suite 120, 382-3886

Deborah Karpman's collage series features tiny shapes aligning themselves systematically across the page.

During graduate school at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, the two noticed a loose micro/macro relationship between their work, a “push/pull” as Hennessy calls it. In literal terms, Hennessy works on a grand scale versus Karpman’s more discreet efforts. What’s more interesting is the shared inscrutability of both artists’ exhaustive code of materials and symbols.

Each is mindful of assemblage, as both a principle and a strategy. Karpman’s deceptively traditional collages reuse the same shapes and characters to surprisingly edgy effect. “Fiver” hits it out of the park: Perfection in execution erases the hand of the artist so that the shapes seem to be building themselves, desperately trying to spill their secrets and tumbling over along the way.

Although it appears rollicking and wild, Hennessy’s work has its own system at play. With their reliance on affordable materials and quirky juxtapositions a la Richard Tuttle, weaker pieces fall a little too neatly into the DIY, un-monumental trend. But Hennessy truly shines when she goes big and the architecture is her canvas. The brash “World as Oyster” ambles its way through an entire portion of the gallery. Neon ribbon teases towering boxes while secret sentences written in small assemblage pieces of plastic, paint and cardboard line the wall. The repertoire of materials and colors has a similar effect as that of Karpman’s collages, a Morse code of signifiers conveying an urgent, if enigmatic, message.

With In and Out of Whack, Karpman and Hennessy describe a world where language may fail us, but symbols are more potent than ever.

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Danielle Kelly

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