Keep On Truckin’

May 4, 2012

published in CityArts
Jade Townsend’s “Beastly” Installation

Jade Townsend’s new body of work, entitled “Leviathan,” is a challenging show to get one’s arms around.  Upon entering the Lesley Heller Workspace on lower Orchard Street, the viewer is faced with two choices: Option one, to the right is the lower half of a human mannequin with a giant red painting propped upon it. To see the stunning drawing on the wall behind it you must gingerly make your way around the obstacle. Option two is to walk through an open-ended wooden box constructed in the gallery that spits you out into the belly of the exhibition. Neither is a particularly welcoming entrance to what is an interesting, if not a wee bit overreaching show of drawings and sculpture.

The exhibit consists of a series of drop-dead gorgeous drawings. Richly executed and darkly funny, they depict a perverted circus world full of ambivalence and peril. The drawings are full of truck imagery, in itself a wonderful tweak on the circus theme. The work is hung on walls loosely striped with red paint, to simulate a circus tent. OK, this kind of works; it relates to the drawings, and I dig an off-beat installation. But then there are also the three big sculptural elements: The aforementioned mannequin, the box, which is said to represent the back of a “box” truck used for delivering art, and a giant wooden construction of the cab of a truck upended, as if the front had crashed propelling the seats high in the air. A video loop plays on what would be the windshield with a soundtrack of African pop music. The back of the “truck” has an old medical textbook on the heart wedged into it with plastic tubes streaming out of the sides. Entitled “Beast.”

Art in the belly of the beast–I get it. It’s a big concept. But you know, the drawings are so damn interesting on their own, delicate narratives meticulously worked with colored pencil, graphite and pastel. They could live perfectly well solo. One wishes the artist had kept it simple, in favor of the beauty and complexity of the drawings, and resisted forcing them into an “installation.”   “Leviathan” remains an interesting and worthy show, an exhibit worth seeing.

Jade Townsend’s “Leviathian” through May 25. Lesley Heller Workspace
54 Orchard St. (212) 410-6120

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