It is hard to say what the work in "Inspired Resistance," the group exhibition currently on display at Crosstown Arts, is resisting. The show features paintings by Nick Pena and Alex Paulus (among others), as well as ink drawings by Bobby and Melanie Spillman and mixed-media work by Joey Slaughter—all talented, if not particularly transgressive, local artists.
Following the success of this past summer's Material Retrospective, "Resistance" continues Crosstown's streak of hosting some of Memphis' strongest group shows. The 55 works included take full advantage of the spacious Crosstown gallery. In the far right corner of the gallery, Paulus' vertical grouping of his sparse acrylic paintings span from floor to ceiling. Nick Pena's Through the Moulin, centered on a back wall, achieves a mirrored depth that does much to balance the surrounding works, many of which employ a flat and illustrative style.
A friendly, graphical note runs throughout the exhibition. Paulus' paintings— each of which feature a line of colorful race flags at the top— constitute about half of the featured work. His flag detailing serves to inexpertly advertise the paintings' central elements: a steak, a woman's bottom, a psychedelic cube. Paulus' useless objects have a zero-sum feeling that contributes to the work's sense of science-fictional groundlessness. This sense is echoed, but treated more deeply, in Pena's paintings, where objects and horizon lines are not abandoned but are endlessly refracted.
Carl E. Moore's works also stand out as smooth but somehow corrupted adverts. In Latex Love, a condom with a broken wrapper sits smoothly beneath two unembellished figures who seem about to kiss each other, in profile. Of all the featured pieces, Moore's work does the most to depart from "Resistance's" somewhat airy headspace.
Ian Lemmonds, the exhibition's curator, writes that the exhibition is about artists being good at being bad at things and that "if you are inspired enough by what you do, that inspiration turns into a kind of resistance." This sounds a bit like a low-brow call to arms; a defense of funny and colorful "bad" work in a perceived fine art world that favors somber abstraction.
"Inspired Resistance" is largely a painting exhibition, so it is possible that the titular "resistance" refers to the particular existential quandaries of 21st century painters. Paulus' sparkly paintings of Barbara Streisand wearing a smiley-face mask may not make you question your human residence in the maw of time, but they do ask you to consider the use of celebrity and pop iconography as interesting heirs to some of painting's traditional concerns.
There will be a gallery talk at Crosstown Arts on Saturday, February 22 at 1:30 pm.