When Art Is Art

Stasis and color theory explored in Johansson Projects exhibition.



Craig Dorety's "Moon with Many Stars" is a carving of lunar topography with immersive time-based animated light.

Craig Dorety

The evolution of art sometimes seems to have made everything potentially a contender as art, and, conversely, nothing automatically off-limits as nonart; all that is needed, said philosopher-critic Arthur Danto, was for someone, anyone in the “art world,” to declare something art. If this sounds like the kind of flimflam usually associated with business and politics, well, it can be, of course: Sometimes, to paraphrase Freud’s anti-Freudian aphorism on cigars, anti-art or nonart really is anti-art or nonart. But the best new art retains elements of tradition; art made with new technology does things impossible with old media, but addresses unchanging human issues in new ways and guises.

Maintenance + Gradient features the artwork of Dan Grayber and Craig Dorety, who update, respectively, sculpture and painting/photography. Grayber’s self-maintaining machines replicate the neuromuscular coordination required to simply stand and stay up, vertical, like a proper Homo erectus. (Homeostasis, you might remember from high school biology, is the body’s tendency to seek and maintain balance or equilibrium, despite changes to environmental conditions.) Wired magazine blithely characterized Grayber’s minibots in their bell jars (Cavity Mechanism series) and vitrines (Display Case Mechanism series) as “gizmos that do nothing but hold themselves up,” but in our autonomous-robot age, Grayber’s intricately designed spider-meets-crane absurdist devices, with their hinges, cables, and pulleys, their stone counterweights—or hearts or brains—and their hominid instinct for self-preservation, are hard not to anthropomorphize (there we go again!).

Dorety, in contrast, updates static abstract painting and nature photography with his wall-mounted constructions, Offset Circles—Sunset and Offset Squares—Cherry Blossoms, the latter somewhat reminiscent of Albers’ Homage to the Square series, with arrangements of nesting geometric forms illuminated by electronics-driven LED lights, changing their spatial as well as color relationships. Moon with Many Suns and Lunar Interval present changing views of that gigantic, archetypal projection screen, the face of the moon.

Maintenance + Gradient, through Aug. 27; reception July 1. Johansson Projects, 2300 Broadway, Oakland; open Thursday through Saturday, 1-5 p.m., and by appointment, 510-444-9140; www.JohanssonProjects.com.

Editor's Note: This story appears in the July edition of our sister publication, The East Bay Monthly.

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