In reproduction or at the briefest glance, it's undeniable that Held's acrylic paintings look like high-concept, cheeseball computer-assisted paintings, or as one visitor to the gallery put it, "It feels like I stepped into the movie, Tron." Paintings like Equinox and Bionuclear II resemble abstract sci-fi diagrams, populated by shifting optical planes, rhombuses, bisected spheres, and corrugated cylindrical forms. When one approaches the canvases, though, which are large enough to lose yourself in completely, the mind-numbing meticulousness of Held's hard-edge abstraction becomes apparent.
Employing up to a few hundred individually placed tones within each canvas, Held lays down non-gradated, solid blocks of color with an understanding of visual perception that can only come from five decades of professional exploration. The result can only be described as planar lunacy. With the mind of a mathematician and a few pages taken from the Op Art handbook, Held creates techno-psychedelic freakouts in which abstract gridded planes suddenly become compressed volumetric forms. There is a virtuosity here that is nothing short of brilliant, and Expanding Universe is easily the optical treat of the year. CHAS BOWIE
L iving in a society so relentlessly enthralled with the cult of personality rather than the cult of, say, artistic originality, it's easy to overlook an artist's output and focus instead on the juicier aspects of creative personalities. For instance, Vanessa Beecroft's installations and videos of bored looking models blankly lounging around became slightly less boring after the New Yorker revealed that Beecroft herself was a humorless, husband-beating, exercise bulimic. It's difficult not to lapse into similar, artist-driven speculation when considering the work of Jock Sturges, whose work is currently on view at Butters Gallery.
Sturges, who is in his mid-fifties, has built his career on superbly crafted black and white photographs of underage nude girls, often photographed over the course of many years at naturalist environments in France. His entire body of work is dominated by pubescent girls in the buff, lounging on rope swings, basking on the beach, and even lying together in bed. In 1990, the FBI raided his studio and charged him with manufacturing child porn, although a grand jury threw the case out within a year. To turn the Creep-O-Meter way up, Sturges refers to the girls in his photos as his "children." And though the presence of underage young boys would be equally unsettling, it at least might suggest that Sturges has interests extending beyond underdeveloped breasts and teenage pubic hair. With those factors rattling in the back of your brain, it's difficult not to stray into Cult of Personality questions, and instead focus on the issue of, "is this art any good?"
Craftsmanship is undoubtedly Sturges' strongest quality. His warm toned prints employ some of the longest tonal ranges possible, to a shimmering, radiant effect. Technically, the photographs are nearly perfect. After considering this aspect of his work, however, things get stickier. Conceptually and creatively, Sturges is a one-trick, sexually charged pony. It's almost as if the artist has an unlimited supply of underage, skinny, flaxen girls at his fingertips, and his aim is to photograph them nude in every cliché known to man. There's the young maiden in the river, her hands barely touching the surface of the water, and a pair of tweens on a bed, with their arms intertwined. Of course there's a girl on a rock in the sun, too young to drive, and way too many photos to count of girls standing around on the beach. A few of the images are quite lovely; most are tired and dull. There's nothing new or original happening in Sturges' photographs--the work relies entirely on a taboo sexual curiosity that has been sanitized and beautifully packaged. In the end, it's artful kitsch--underage nudie photos dressed up in the language of fine art photography. CHAS BOWIE