Art installer Paul Sydorenko gets his own solo show installed at Asterisk Gallery
by Dan Tranberg / Special to The Plain Dealer
Thursday February 14, 2008, 2:04 PM
Dan Tranberg

Cleveland artist Paul Sydorenko's solo show "The Install" at Asterisk Gallery includes dozens of his paintings, as well as several installations in which stuffed animals performing various tasks represent the artist's day job as a professional art installer.

If you've seen an exhibition at the Museum of Contemporary Art Cleveland or Spaces gallery over the past seven or eight years, you've seen the work of Paul Sydorenko. But you may never have seen his art.

Sydorenko has worked by day as a professional art installer for MOCA and Spaces since graduating with a bachelor of fine arts degree in printmaking from Ohio University in 1999. He's on a team of specialists who are responsible for installing and taking down exhibitions -- a job that includes myriad details such as packing and shipping artwork, ordering display and construction supplies and building walls and pedestals.

It's a common job among artists, but one that's rarely noticed or recognized.

In his other role, as an artist, Sydorenko has participated in about 20 exhibitions over the past eight years, often showing cartoon-like paintings and installations that mingle the naivete of childhood with teen angst and an assortment of adult issues.

His current solo show "The Install" at Asterisk Gallery in Cleveland's Tremont neighborhood is Sydorenko's first show in which he merges his art with his role as an art installer. Throughout the gallery, he has created installations in which stuffed animals appear, rather mischievously, to be performing the tasks of an art installer -- packing and unpacking paintings, hammering nails and painting the gallery walls.

The rest of the gallery is full of Sydorenko's paintings, as well as a video in which a series of drawings are displayed on a tiny LCD monitor.

The video is particularly telling. Like a comic strip, the images slowly build a narrative as a cast of cartoon animals holds up signs with words scrawled on them. The messages gradually change from frame to frame, beginning with such sentiments as "This Is Not Right" and progressing to statements including "Be Happy" and "Sweet Dreams."

Sydorenko's paintings similarly express a range of positive and negative emotions, always with childlike simplicity. A catlike figure stands alone with its head hanging down, as if it has been rejected. Two blob-shaped characters gaze at each other as a simple heart shape floats above the space between them, suggesting that they're falling in love.

His installations present similar vignettes: A stuffed bear with a paintbrush in his hand collapses on the floor into a puddle of spilled paint; a similar bear dumps a trove of bubble-wrapped paintings onto the gallery floor.

Lighthearted as it all seems, the show's cumulative statement is not so simple. Here, as in all of Sydorenko's work, the world appears as an endless cycle of sadness and sweetness, humor and seriousness, anger and acceptance.