Gay City and TimeOut New York: “Drawing Out of The Void”

"The Past Illuminates A Promising Present: Vestry Arts juxtaposes DiBennedetto, Schoolwerth with Bellmer and Tchelitchew"

Versions of this review appeared in Gay City News and TimeOut New York

Hans Bellmer, Pavel Tchelitchew, Steve DiBenedetto, Pieter Schoolwerth

Vestry Arts Inc.

Notions of greatness excite and revolt serious and not-so-serious artists everywhere.  But as one gets closer to the nexus of greatness—a pig’s litter of critics, artists, dealers and collectors who get their chance to decide—one realizes how silly the appellation is.  Very often, the difference between great and not-quite great is a weird stew of happenstance and momentum.  Still, the hypothesis is continually posited, “There’s no great art now; it just ain’t what it used to be.”

In the inaugural show at Vestry Arts, Miguel Abreu, properly disregarding such atavism, has grouped drawings by contemporary artists Steve DiBennedetto and Pieter Schoolwerth with Hans Bellmer (1902-75) and Pavel Tchelitchew (1898-1957).  DiBennedetto and Schoolwerth are an unlikely match; DiBennedetto known for his gloopy and colorful abstract excesses, Schoolwerth for his tightly conceived and rendered madhouse realism.  Bellmer and Tchelitchew, notwithstanding that they may be a better coupling in historical retrospect, represent equally distinct iconographies—Bellmer with his surrealist foundation and heteroerotic photography, Tchelitchew with a view of “internal landscape” specifically set apart from surrealism, and an often homoerotic subject matter.

Yet the drawings of these various artists relate—most immediately in terms of a shared positioning to political history (the onset of the Cold War vis-à-vis the onset of the War on Terror), as well as to the occult, or psychedelic.  Moving through the works, and the century, the intention of Bellmer and Tchelitchew to literally dissect society as represented by the fetishized body is followed up DiBennedetto’s and Schoolwerth’s investigations of a culture in which the body itself is no longer the object of the fetish, rather, the culture is the source of arousal. 

DiBennedetto and Schoolworth, whose bodies of works are but preliminarily known in comparison to Bellmer and Tchelitchew, not only gain from the company, but from being afforded the larger context.  A familiarization with Schoolwerth’s drawings, and his broad and fuzzy engagement of popular culture, enhances the solidity of his intentionally slick and impenetrable oil tableaus; while the dictatorial control of DiBennedetto’s colored pencils similarly benefits the looser compositions of his canvases.  So, as for art being less than it was—you get what you put into it.  Go see the show.