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Taking Sides 

CSU Gallery breaks on through with four artists

On the Other Side, a show of large-scale painting and wall-mounted sculpture now on display at the Cleveland State University Art Gallery, is a time-traveling exhibit of works, a few of which feel like they dug in their heels back during some fraught, neo-expressionist moment in the 1980s.

That in itself isn't a bad thing; much of the most ambitious expressive work of the century flourished (however improbably) during the Reagan administration. And it's undeniably the business of this kind of art to find the power and passion immanent in materials. The only relevant questions for artist and viewer alike are always the same: Is it working? Are we feeling yet? But if the words "What year is this?" are hard to repress, there may be a problem. Feeling is so much a matter of the present tense.

On the Other Side curator Andrzej Siwkiewicz is a Polish-born painter who relocated to New York in the late 1980s, moving to Cleveland in 1996. At the CSU Gallery, he adds four large-scale oil paintings of his own to the mix — boldly rendered images of nude female models striking self-absorbed poses, as in "R & R," which shows two figures essentially back-to-back. In the foreground, one crouches in shadow, facing us and gazing down at her hands planted on the floor; the other is modeled in strokes of light pink and white and is shown from the back, with one hand raised to the nape of her neck. A vibrant red and pink background offers no information about the figures but serves to frame a muscular evocation of frustration and distraction.

The show's tendency toward the dramatic is even more pronounced in Yong Han's two nearly 10-foot works, "Lion King" and "Bondage." The Korean-born artist has become one of Cleveland's most recognizable painters in the past two decades, combining loose abstraction with a kind of celebratory geometry in huge oil-on-canvas works. In the past he has used a Christmas tree-like triangle as organizational/symbolic motif, and here, starbursts of radiating yellow and white lines serve a similar function. The overall effect is a taut sense of possibility, as Yong's layered imagery draws the viewer toward a mysterious vision of house-like shapes, glimpsed through the bars of a cage of energy.

Kam Shun Lee moved to the U.S. from China with his family as a teenager. Like Yong Han, he has become a notable presence in Cleveland painting, especially during the 1990s. His athletic depictions at the CSU gallery of dense vegetation, rocks and other landscape elements read as much like acts of pure painting as depiction, reveling in substance and the formal rhythms of mark-making.

Most contemporary — because he's the least time-bound of the artists in On the Other Side — is American sculptor Tracy Heneberger. Over the past decade, Heneberger has traveled back and forth many times to produce works at a foundry in Beijing, where his experiences have inspired his wall-hanging bronze and aluminum objects, cast from actual fish, mushrooms and medicinal roots. Metaphorical works like the fan-like "Chorus" and the uneven, frayed-looking "Tapestry" — both assembled from a number of bronze fish — stir different sensory experiences and associations together, ambushing expectation. Heneberger's powerfully contemplative combinations speak of transformation and the great cycle of ages that spins out all forms, so briefly cast in time.

arts@clevescene.com

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More by Douglas Max Utter

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