The Brooklyn Rail, May 2006
On the gallery’s “project room” mezzanine level Richard Bottwin’s “Blue Cubes” look like toughly constructed abstracted armatures: skronky, planar, and angular. In contrast to Voisine’s plain-spokeness, Bottwin’s work appears extremely exotic with its lavish use of materials (including Macassar Ebony and Zebra Wood Veneers). Enriched by excess, as opposed to overbuilt or gaudy, his use of applied color reinforces the overall feeling of maximum density. Despite some formal similarities between the two artists’ work, it is an exceedingly thoughtful pairing.
Don Voisine and Richard Bottwin
by Michael Brennan
Metaphor Contemporary Art
April 14–May 14, 2006
Philadelphia Inquirer, April 1, 2005
The sculptures that Richard Bottwin is showing at Pentimenti Gallery at first appear to be simple constructions.
His wall pieces are composed of several juxtaposed slabs of wood; several are channel-shaped. Three floor pieces look like cubes.
The sculptures are made of plywood veneered with striped African zebrawood; some surfaces are painted in bright acrylics. Joinery is flawless.
So far this sounds like advanced woodworking, but masterly craftsmanship and architectural references are intrinsic to Bottwin’s purpose: to create something that looks as if it might be functional, but that on examination appears slightly odd, even mysterious.
In the wall pieces, we discover funny angles and curious relationships between surfaces. Several of the channel forms look like miter boxes made by a carpenter with astigmatism.
The floor sculptures are even more expressive of imbalance and precariousness. Sides are raised off the floor like lift gates, or are off-register. Yet, as in the wall pieces, the design eccentricities impart energy and movement. Bottwin’s sculptures make the unusual seem acceptable, even desirable.
‘A Closer Look’ at four with things in common
by Edward J. Sozanski
New York Times, August 14, 1998
The 10-block area known as Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) is said to be home to some 500 artists. This exhibition inaugurates the Dumbo Arts Center, a nonprofit institution comprising a raw but freshly painted exhibition space on the first floor and a performing arts space on the second floor of an old brick loft building.
An uneven mix of good and mediocre works by 15 artists selected from the center’s files, the show is less adventurous than you would expect of such a start-up enterprise.
Some of the most persuasive pieces are abstract with minimalist tendencies. Richard Bottwin neatly constructs compact plywood sculptures that inventively play with basic geometric relations;
several painters concentrate on flatness and surface: Sonita Singwi makes white, ivory-smooth surfaces to which she sparingly adds tiny, evocative episodes of organic abstraction, and Heather Hutchinson coats sheets of Plexiglas with tinted beeswax, creating rectangles of foggy luminosity. Formalism does not dominate completely, however. There are some sensitively painted urban-industrial landscapes by Nicholas Evans-Cato, and a couple of intriguing constructions by Emily Feinstein in which frosted glass panels reveal electrically backlighted shadows of miniature furniture. KEN JOHNSON
‘SECTION 33,” Dumbo Arts Center, 45 York Street, Williamsburg, Brooklyn, (718) 624-3772 (through Sept. 19). This exhibition inaugurates the Dumbo (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass) Arts Center. The mixed bag of works by 15 artists is less adventurous than you’d expect of such an upstart enterprise. Notable items include Richard Bottwin’s compact, geometrically playful plywood constructions; white, ivory smooth surfaces bearing tiny incidents of organic abstraction by Sonita Singwi, and sensitively rendered industrial landscapes by Nicholas Evans-Cato (Johnson).
‘ART IN REVIEW; ‘Section 33’
by Ken Johnson
Dumbo Art Center
New York Times, August 14, 1995
NEWARK— THE three shows at the Aljira center for contemporary art here are “No Easy Walk,” a selection of black-and-white photographs by Helen Stummer; “Nourish!,” an installation by Stefanie Nagorka, and an anthology by 10 artists titled “On and Off the Wall.”
Ms. Stummer may not have taken a vow of poverty, but her view of those stuck with the condition bespeaks an almost religious outlook. Yet, in her statement, the photographer presents herself as a messenger bringing news to suburbanites, whom she likens to generals “insulated from the realities” faced by soldiers at the front.
Doomed though her mission may be, Ms. Stummer persists, concentrating on the children who live in the squalid sections of Newark. Outdoors, her subjects play around derelict buildings and make mud pies on a vacant lot strewn with garbage; indoors, a little girl stands on a chair to fix her hair in a mirror. One boy does the same in order to wash dishes in a sink; another sits, tenderly holding an infant as new and pristine as the furniture is old and stained.
Ms. Stummer does not exhort, neither does she blame, but by eschewing violence and radical chic in favor of children who look clean and cared for, she suggests that the only thing distinguishing them from their suburban counterparts is the dismal setting in which they operate.
As a photographer who has spent about 15 years studying the subject, she ought to know; she must also be aware that the truth she conveys is not the kind to move multitudes, especially not in a “Let them eat cake era.” But it would be a callous observer who is not moved by her work and its implications of what Orwell called “common decency.”
A Minimalist with a social conscience is an oxymoronic combination, yet it seems to describe Ms. Nagorka. The artist covers the center’s brown linoleum floor with 100 galvanized buckets arranged in rows of 10, effecting symmetry that is pleasing and that would be even more so if the lighting were less clinical.
Still, by depositing in each gleaming bucket a plastic bag of powdered milk, Ms. Nagorka changes a Minimalist statement into one with a message about hunger. Ironically or not, she combines the fruits of mass production with the kind of food that is routinely dispatched to the third world.
Though the artist has stated that “Nourish!” is about “nourishment: the conspicuous lack of it,” her literal-minded approach to the subject implies a compassion that is equally routine. Samuel Johnson was probably right when he said that nobody ever lost a night’s sleep over a war on the other side of the globe.
Richard Bottwin stands out in the group show “On and Off the Wall” with constructions in wood painted or, in the case of the example illustrated, left raw. This piece is a building with walls that would seem improvised were they not precisely cut and their surfaces sanded to a satin finish. Inside the structure is a passage supported by tall right-angle triangles made of one-and-a-half-inch beams. The impression is of a cross between a Melanesian clubhouse on stilts and an early design by the architect Frank Gehry.
Amir Bey contributes life masks cast in bronze and framed by “pancakes” of patterned, glazed ceramic. Robert Blackburn, the printmaker, may be the most prominent subject, but the likenesses that stand out are those of Malachi Favors and Roscoe Mitchell, in which the eyes are drilled or otherwise opened to give more expression.
Having asked herself what it is that she knows, Janet Goldner cuts the question out of steel sheeting and, in a companion work, lists physical and mental features that have inspired feminist discourse. Gregory Coates produces “shutters” with louvers made of warped wood, metal bands, perished rubber and leather, transforming them with colors that range from black and creosote brown to emerald green.
The dominant painter is Diogenes Ballester, with a large encaustic of a glowering priest who wears a flame-colored cope as if it were a straitjacket. Not to be outdone, however, is Lester Rapaport with two striking works on paper, one of which is a white beehive shape dotted with yellow and laid on a black ground.
Gladys Barker Grauer presents a wall hanging that is a dancing figure with head and feet painted on canvas, body and limbs cut out of corrugated paper and accessories that include a flag and mats woven from colored fabrics.
Nieves Saah is represented by compositions in pastel that suggest figures and objects seen in a distorting mirror, Lynn Seeney by an Abstract Expressionist canvas quartered like the shields in coats-of-arms. Joanne McFarland’s monotypes consist of stripes in black and pastel colors that are embellished with collage and touches of metallic paint and that look all the more delicate when viewed from a distance.
All three shows run through March 18. Aljira is at 2 Washington Place and is open Wednesday through Friday from noon to 5 P.M. and Saturday from noon to 4 P.M.
ART; A Mixture of Messages in Three Shows
by Vivien Raynor
Aljira Center for Contemporary Art