Arts Magazine: CAUTION: Eye Protection Required in This Area

From Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program

While new work by Minnesota artists John Largaespada and Alyn Silberstein presents no realoptical danger, it does challenge the methods by which we appraise art

Both the elegant, orderly confines of a museum and the rougher quarters of a struggling alternative gallery send messages to visitors. Our biases about "value" shape our feelings of respect for the precious materials of the academy-marble and linen and rich mineral pigments-just as they tend to shape our more casual attitude when we're confronted with the familiar materials of the everyday, like spray paint or ballpoint pens.

The choice of content also affects the viewing experience: We react differently to a beautiful landscape or portrait than we might to familiar images of the mundane world. The uniqueness of a work of art sways our response as well. But what if the identity of a certain work doesn't depend on it being an individual artifact at all, but rather on its reproduction and dissemination through books or magazines?

Issues like these-the dissonance between the "high" and the "low," between the artistic object and our presumptions about it -are at the conceptual heart of "CAUTION: Eye Protection Required in This Area," a new Minnesota Artists Exhibition Program show by Minneapolis artists John Largaespada and Alyn Silberstein that opens May 9, 1992. Taking over the grand new second-floor Minnesota Gallery, the two have made it their own, turning it not only into a place for their work to hang, but into a work of sorts itself, a room with their unique views.

Both veterans of the local underground scene, Largaespada and Silberstein have collaborated in the past, on work with the ARTPOLICE group and on the radical graphics magazine Losing Faith. They may seem to be stylistic worlds apart-Silberstein's huge paintings feature figures seamlessly rendered in flat riotous colors, whereas Largaespada's pieces tend to be smaller, dark and brooding collages and ballpoint pen drawings that generate energy through tonal and gestural contrasts. But for all their differences on the surface, in their inspirations these two artists are kindred spirits: drawing from both the similarities and contrasts between fine art and popular culture; exploring the variety of means to reproduce and present works available to the contemporary artist; working against expectations with images both refined and profane.

What John Largaespada calls the artists' "electric, buzzing" style is clear in both the form and content of their works. Largaespada may be best known through the gallery of Twin Cities streets, where his flyers for gigs by underground bands can often be seen in record store windows or amid the cacaphonous chorus of color and text that covers telephone poles and building sides. The democratic, grass-roots ethic of mass-reproduction and wide distribution that drives these pieces falls right in line with Largaespada's work for alternative publications. Often populated with figures scavenged from the mainstream print media, is collages are dizzy, densely packed scenes that engineer a kind of optical overload, subverting the images they employ by cutting them off from familiar contexts. His ballpoint pen drawings dazzle as well, offering a mix of wide tonal and gestural variances that whip up a psychotropic storm of dancing lines and vibrating vortices.

Silberstein's enormous, in-yourface paintings are similarily children of the pop culture-a mix of equal parts Day-Glo psychedelia, science fiction fantasy and cartoon exaggeration that both winks at and revels in the wacky excesses of adolescent male heroes like Mad Magazine and Ed "Big Daddy" Roth. Like his compatriot, Silberstein plays with the potential ways an artist can reproduce his work-his paintings begin as doodles, weirdo anatomical figures sketched out and then transferred deliberately to his canvases, where their unsettlingly gloppy masses are decorated in larger-than-life colors. With these curious, often funny anthropomorphic blobs, Silberstein crosses a comic-book visual style with the fine art conventions of portrait painting, challenging and expanding the conceptual underpinning of each.

In "CAUTION: Eye Protection Required in This Area," the two artists use as much of the exhibition space as possible-hanging dozens of Largaespada's small works "salon" style, stacked one on top of another, well up the high walls. Silberstein shows fewer of his large pieces (up to six feet by six feet) and has copied one of his paintings directly onto the surface of a gallery wall.

The explicit warning about physical peril and optical danger contained in the exhibition's title is a fitting introduction to these two unique artists. Like their work itself, it casts a wry artistic and social outlook in the guise of something familiar to everyone, challenging the methods we often use to appraise art by purposefully meshing the mundane and the outrageous, the conventional and the subversive.

CAUTION: Eye Protection Required in This Area" opens to the public Saturday, May 9, 1992 as part of Loading Dock Live! 6, a multi-arts extravaganza featuring new work in music, film, video and performance by Minnesota artists.

Jeffery Kastner is a Minneapolis writer and critic.

Citation: Jeffery Kastner, "CAUTION: Eye Wear Protection Required," Arts 15, no. 5 (May 1992): 14-15.