Monday, February 25, 2008

Tommy Hartung

Tommy Hartung at Moti Hasson Gallery
535 West 25th St New York, NY

February14-March16, 2008

Purchase Alumni Tommy Hartung is exhibiting a successful multi-media show at Moti Hasson Gallery in Chelsea. With an MFA from Columbia and showcased as part of Moti Hasson Gallery's inaugural Chelsea exhibition, Hartung is proving he can do a little bit of everything in terms of art-making and storytelling. Through his work in painting, digital video and sculpture, he tells a fictional tale featuring the mysterious settlement of the “New World” in the late 1400s by a Christopher Columbus-esque character and his ill-fated crew. In keeping with this theme, Hartung creates an exhibition in which everything has the feeling of something “found”, and the viewer is free to explore.
Entering the gallery space a video is shown for about 15 minutes. Behind the wall on which it is projected are presented an old-school projector, and a sculpture. In an adjacent alcove one can also enjoy two figurative paintings and sculpture, offered almost sarcastically as the last pieces to an interdisciplinary “puzzle” which spans the triad of video, sculpture and painting.

(Image stills)

Tommy Hartung

The Story of Edward Holmes, 2007

edition of 5000

still from color video on DVD

15 minutes

courtesy of the artist and Moti Hasson Gallery, New York

The movie consists of scenes comprised of animation, made out of small figurines and bits of toys, painted and glued together to create “characters”. He also films a miniature ship as well as busts of familiar-looking dignitaries, which recall portraits of our founding fathers. The myth Hartung weaves tells the story of one “Edward Holmes.” His journey at sea is narrated it as he had recorded it in a journal. The viewer is visually dictated the conditions of a storm, which causes the model ship manned by the crew of sculptural busts to crash on the shores of a mysterious land inhabited by strange animals and Natives. An overall sentiment of paranoia and anxiety can be felt in the spaces between the figures as they float and dance across the miniature stage. This is fitting as one could think of no story more relevant or obsolete than the “discovery” of the Americas. At some points you feel as though it is expected that you laugh, uncomfortable, as it would seem. This is especially true during the last scene, when Edward Holmes gets lucky with a young Native girl. The video, as the primary element, sets the stage for the rest of the show and is by far the most interesting piece Hartung presents. His main character is effective in that he plays into the myth of the early American explorers with an abstract dialogue between Fate and Edward Holmes.

The sculpture pieces behind the projection wall consist of the projector emitting an image of a blackbird. Pencil sketches of the model busts used in the video lay on the table next to the projector. Hartung plays with the idea of the artist’s studio being a work of art in itself, however this arrangement of tools reads very literally within the context of the rest of the work. The parallel between the worlds of video and real life is one of the most interesting concepts in the show. However, the sculptures, with their incidental compositions and scale shifts, seem negatively residual of the video-making process.

The last room of the exhibit contains two paintings and a sculpture. The paintings are large and colorful despite their limited palettes. The representational scenes depict a cottage in the woods with a bridge crossing a river or ravine, and a picnic at an RV in a forest. Abstraction is achieved through veiling the scenes with drippy, atmospheric paint, as well as obsessive patterning in the foliage of the trees, which also serves to camouflage the subject. The paintings seem to depict the magic of isolation found in the woods, with elements reminiscent of northern lights and other light phenomena such as shadows and silhouettes.

The sculpture in the corner of the room is a to-scale model of two cocks fighting, made of masking tape and wire, de-lineated with charcoal. The motif of animalistic aggression is possibly in reference to the outdoors, and the wild becoming tame through familiarization.

The whole show could be explained as a metaphor for the fear and confusion of the unknown. Hartung brilliantly parallels the anxiety of exploration and the thrill of a “Manifest Destiny” in Edward Holmes’s discovery of a new species of black bird. The animal’s strange behavior includes eating its surrogate mother upon hatching. Tommy Hartung will be at Moti Hasson from February 14 thru March 16, 2008.

(Installation shot)

Tommy Hartung
Raw File Dump #2, 2007
found objects and materials
dimensions variable

courtesy of the artist and Moti Hasson Gallery, New York

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