The McEvoy Foundation for the Arts in Dogpatch celebrates the city’s masked reopening with Next to you, an ode to face-to-face meetings. The exhibition features 52 pieces from the McEvoy Family Collection, with an emphasis on the performing arts and public spaces.
The gallery positions the show as “a farewell ballad in a strange and difficult time and a perspective towards a future where we are reunited” as we emerge from the “required isolation” of the pandemic. The result, however, is more of a nostalgic journey into a social landscape that we may never return to exactly as we remember, given the unpredictable and dynamic nature of the continuing health crisis.
In Where is the party, 1995, the expressionist painter Michelangelo Lovelace renders a dance party with a thick acrylic brush. A diverse cast of cartoon bodies bustle in ecstasy under a DJ, the classic 1980s lyrics “the roof is on fire” sporting on stage. Other paintings and photographs show dancers and parties, masquerades and concerts; even a Star Trek convention. The performances induce more nostalgia than excitement.
Francis Cape’s Utopian benches, 2011, a set of 17 elegant wooden benches, which occupy the central floor space of the gallery, has a similar effect. The benches imply communion, secular or not, in the face of the forced individualism of social isolation. The effect of the work, however, is to highlight recent experiences of isolation when a visitor finds himself alone in the gallery wondering, as Lovelace does, where is party at? If the show is “a farewell ballad,” then what it says goodbye is a suddenly – and sadly – outdated culture where the community was taken for granted.
Jill Freedman’s photography Blondie Warhol, Studio 54, 1979, is a comedic historical document that shows Debbie Harry sailing for another photographer in front of a wall-sized enlargement of her own face. In the foreground, Andy Warhol, slightly out of focus, is talking to another woman. The painting evokes performativity in social situations which, even the most innocuous, seem extravagant after a year and a half of unmasked loneliness.
that of Hans Breder Untitled, 1972, from the series of photos by the artist Body / Sculptures, shows two intertwined human figures cut in half by a pair of mirrors, a kaleidoscope of entangled legs and torsos. The embrace, underlined by a kind of excess in the reflections, is the cathartic opposite of social distance. This motif is repeated in an Irving Penn photograph of two pairs of nude dancers kissing each other, and in Alex Prager’s bird’s-eye view photo of a tight crowd.
Because Next to you uses works of art made in a pre-pandemic world to envision a future that will be marked by COVID in a way we can’t imagine, it never quite merges as a vision of the future. The show is best enjoyed as a collection of strong independent submissions, rather than a thematic chorus. It’s an apt metaphor for the bittersweet lesson the pandemic has taught us: Even when we’re side by side, we’re all alone.
Next to you is on view at the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts through December 4.
Photo: Where’s the party. Michelangelo Lovelace. 1995. Courtesy of the McEvoy Foundation for the Arts