Cullum’s Notebook: Drennen and Sagerman offer intriguing mysteries that reward deeper engagement
Even though each of us brings a particular way of seeing to our encounter with visual art, for much of the work typically exhibited in Atlanta, what you see is what you get. In other words, you can analyze the composition, contemplate the particular use of color, consider the associations stirred by the subject matter, but in the end, what you have is something abstract with no meaning beyond itself, or something representational that’s firmly anchored in the world we know or the world we can imagine.
Less often, we have exhibitions like Craig Drennen’s BANDIT, at MOCA-GA through January 27, in which the literal references to Christmas kitsch, Shakespeare’s Timon of Athens, closed-caption broadcasting and a variety of other things mean that the most comprehensive review couldn’t begin to capture it. The full implications of the work depend on more information than any of us are likely to have, but the visual qualities are intriguing enough to keep us engaged with the mysteries.
I bring this up because I was especially intrigued by the black square with sixteen red squares arranged around its rim, a representation of the chimney down which Santa climbs to set the mechanisms of gift-giving in motion that the rest of the exhibition pursues with tinsel, fake trees and symbolic dollar signs. The painting happens to be hung in a similar position to Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square, the 1915 painting that was intended by the artist to supplant religious icons and representational painting in general. It was a hopeful but ultimately hopeless symbol with which to bring about a metaphysical and physical revolution, and Drennen’s point (one of them) is that the expectations encoded in the annual festival of trees, tinsel and extravagant exchange of gifts is another failed project. The whole show is a major, not entirely successful, extension of Drennen’s meditations on the deeper meaning of failure.
I make this point because I want to focus attention on Robert Sagerman’s Totalizations, at Marcia Wood Gallery through February 3. This suite of (seemingly) monochrome paintings is an indisputably successful body of work that seems on first encounter to be almost psychotropic in its capacity for defeating perceptual expectations; mind-bendingly beautiful, but nevertheless a recognizable type of pure abstraction.