Best Art Gallery: Asterisk

When Tremont's Inside Gallery closed, it was a tough loss; though the gallery scene there is much-heralded, few galleries offered the consistent quality and unfailingly strong curatorial viewpoint of Insight. When Dana Depew opened his Asterisk Gallery in the same location, art enthusiasts started breathing a little easier. Asterisk has been almost as consistently excellent - missteps have been the result of adventurousness rather than ball-dropping - and generally, an exhibit there can be counted on to be worth seeing. Few other galleries, in Tremont or elsewhere, have set such a high bar. 2393 Professor Ave., Cleveland., 330.304.8528,

This is a Free Times Article from Nov 17, 2004 Volume 12, Issue 30 Published November 17th, 2004 Visual Art : Remain In Light : Asterisk's "our Friends Electric" Is Occasionally Brilliant

By Lyz Bly

BECAUSE CLEVELAND'S ART MARKET is limited, artists don't always need to exercise the cutthroat marketing tactics endemic to the New York art market. This situation lends itself to experimentation, as there's freedom in knowing that Mary Boone Gallery isn't going to market your artwork as a mere commodity made to match a collector's modern Italian couch.

Perhaps this is why you don't always see polished, well-wrought paintings and sculptures at Cleveland's alternative galleries. Instead, you often find clunky assemblages, installations with transgressive themes, or ephemeral video and performance pieces. Experimentation is the positive consequence of inhabiting a region with an insignificant art market. The downside is that curators sometimes conflate “experimental” with “shoddy,” and second-rate art is exhibited along with superior work. This problem is exacerbated in themed shows, a risky endeavor because even though a curator may know an artist's work, it is difficult to predict the visual response to a theme; this can dilute even the most brilliant curatorial concept. This situation is embodied in Our Friends Electric , an exhibition at Asterisk Gallery curated by Akron artist and writer Daiv Whaley.

The concept was to have artists explore light as a sort of consumable, packaged commodity. “In our age of conspicuous consumption, light is no longer used just for utility; it is a luxury, a manipulated energy,” says Whaley. The range of interpretations makes this a compelling exhibition, despite several uninspiring contributions. Yet there are many brilliant pieces, including a film projection by Kristen Baumliér, a reflective wall installation by Salvatore Mazzola, and wall sculpture by Jason Lee.

Baumliér's Oil Projections is the first in a series of video works exploring the pervasively malleable material petroleum crude oil. Baumliér explains, “Petroleum is used for transportation, but it is so prevalent in everyday life that it is virtually inescapable; it is even used in our food production processes, as there are petroleum-based fertilizers.” Baumliér often explores high technology through low-tech artistic experiments. To create her video, she poured crude oil between two pieces of glass and placed them on an overhead projector. She then pressed the glass together, causing the oil to make psychedelic patterns that were then projected on to the wall. The video was created by simply filming the wall projection. The piece is laden with ironic nostalgia, as the patterns are reminiscent of the dreamy, abstract acid-trip film projections of the 1960s. However, the political, economic and environmental implications surrounding petroleum crude oil make Baumliér's video insightful and relevant.

Salvatore Mazzola's interpretation is expressed in Christmas Tree , a wall arrangement of multicolored reflective stainless steel circles of varying sizes. The reflective surfaces and colors vary depending on where you are in the gallery and how the light hits the piece. Mazzola is one of Cleveland's best painters, as his paintings are well crafted and lusciously rendered; the gleaming surfaces of Christmas Tree are evocative of his painted works.

Jason Lee's Greener consists of backlit photo prints of vividly colored patches of grass, separated by a small white wooden picket fence. Lee has consistently produced these light box sculptures; this work, which is reminiscent of his recent large-scale installation at MOCA, is particularly compelling. The artificiality of vibrant green grass and its embodiment of all things suburban, is underscored by the bright “safety” orange metal boxes that encase it; ultimately, the structure trenchantly projects the American inclination toward the commodification of “nature” or, more specifically, the lawn.

Despite these particularly strong works, the exhibition has its share of failures. Former Clevelander Niko Angelis' submission, a square fashioned out of four banks of fluorescent lights arranged on the floor, is visually and conceptually weak. Kevin Shahan's contribution, An Torcha , a leaded glass wall sconce made to look like a torch, would be more at home in a craft show. But despite the show's weaknesses, “Our Friends Electric” is a worthwhile curatorial endeavor. And right now — given the short November days and the post-election blues many Clevelanders are experiencing — a little more light can only help, even if all of the sources aren't conceptually brilliant.