As temperatures increase, so does lethargy in the art world. Vacations take precedence over open hours and suddenly it's time to cobble together a summer group show. Refreshingly, this is not the case at Silverman Gallery. Forms and Inflections, featuring seven artists and collaborations, is a captivating ensemble exhibition and an energized departure from what is normally a lackluster genre. Across a variety of media, the works utilize both personal and borrowed systems of organization, drawing the viewer into a series of visual puzzles based in everything from optical illusions to Euclidian geometry.
Since the individual works in Forms and Inflections invite inspection, it seems fitting to take this opportunity to dissect the idea of the summer group show as a whole. If treated as more than a lull in regular programming, summer group shows provide an opportunity to showcase non-gallery artists under rigorous curatorial conceits. Too often, however, the summer group show's list of participating artists lines up neatly with a gallery's roster. Slightly more adventurous is the mixed bag method: choose an established (deceased, even better) name to set the premise, toss in a few gallery artists, and add a bit of excitement with one or two up-and-coming unknowns.
In this respect, Forms and Inflections at first appears no different. Stanley Brouwn represents the old guard with a vitrine of artist books, announcements, and post cards. Investigations into personal modes of measurement and the pleasure of chance, the works are a historical touchstone for the remainder of the show's younger artists. A museum-like display prevents browsing, but small glimpses of Brouwn's language set a tone of systematic play: "send me a map of the city where you are living," reads one business-sized card.
Established art historical context, check. Yet on the second count, Forms and Inflections bucks the trend. Christopher Badger is the only artist included in the show who is currently represented by Silverman. His four large-scale chalk drawings on panel, titled "Geometric Constructions of Antiquity 3, 4, 5, 15," use intersecting circles to create a triangle, square, hexagon, and pentadecagon. Stacked two high, the nearly monochromatic drawings tower over the gallery room, resembling a cross between chalkboard geometry lessons and Sol LeWitt wall drawings.
As guests of the gallery, Aspen Mays, Hayal Pozanti, Florian & Michaël Quistrebert, Sean Raspet, and Hugh Scott-Douglas round out the show, providing the most engaging pieces in the process. Owner Jessica Silverman states, "Group shows give us a chance to show work by artists we're interested in." In this vein, summer group shows can be a prime testing ground for future relationships between artists and galleries. Yet all too often these shows manage to short-change unrepresented artists, making them appear as afterthoughts to bigger names.
There is no filler in Forms and Inflections. While every artist shows two or more objects, the exhibition is not overhung. Each work operates on its own self-involved system of organization, but also reflects back upon its placement within the group. No piece does this better than the Quistrebert brothers' "Lingelbach Grid Illusion (after the Hermann Grid Illusion)." This optical illusion wallpaper quite literally discourages direct or prolonged viewing, such is the dizzying effect of its repeated grid pattern. By forcing the viewer to look out of the corner of one eye, the wallpaper directs the visitor's gaze at other, similarly fractured works, most notably Raspet's "3 Inflections," three clocks surrounded by angles of mirrored plexi, looking as if they were pulled from the digital plane into a gallery setting.
The quietest work in the exhibition -- Aspen Mays's "Punched out stars" series -- is the most in line with Brouwn's conceptual leanings. Three silver gelatin prints taken from an astronomer's archive have been altered with a hole punch until the photographs resemble Swiss cheese. Her punch's targets, the images of grayscale stars, are then collected in a 10-by-10 grid. Rather than exclude the viewer from its small loop, Mays's work piques curiosity by displaying original objects modified through a series of actions that are neither arbitrary nor uninteresting.
The works in Forms and Inflections are systematic in their making, but avoid rigid formality by demonstrating that the idiosyncrasies inherent in decision-making are far more intriguing. Just so, Forms and Inflections takes the structure of the summer group show and makes it something altogether worth seeing.
Forms and Inflections runs through runs though August 20, 2011 at Silverman Gallery in San Francisco. For more information visit silverman-gallery.com.