Warner Friedman’s ‘Doorway to the River’
Warner Friedman’s ‘Doorway to the River’ (Courtesy of Warner Friedman)
Thursday July 5, 2012

GREAT BARRINGTON -- If you see just one art show in the Berkshires this season, I have a recommendation: "Double Vi sion" at Sanford Smith Fine Art. This small exhibit pairing regional artists Warner Friedman and Michael Zelehoski easily eclipses all other offerings I have seen at local venues.

There's a flood of artists today, but most are inconsequential, like droplets in a deluge. Some, however, float to the top, and here we find Friedman and Zelehoski. Ranking among the nation's best, their art will have enduring im portance and worth. Seeing their work together -- more than 20 pieces in all -- is a rare and rewarding experience.

The doldrums of postmodernism -- modernism's aftermath -- have made questions like What is art? What is great art? and What purpose does art serve? seem like meaningless, irrelevant musings. For me, "Double Vi sion" intuitively answers these questions. I did not find myself focusing on the artists, but spellbound by a series of wondrous and marvelous objects.

Coarsely categorized, Fried man is a landscapist, and Zel ehoski works with found objects. Both however redefine -- no, reinvent -- their subjects, allowing viewers to enter a parallel art world, where work is eng rossing and imaginative than we often now expect.

Even after coming to terms with what these modern masters do technically, their artwork never loses its intellectual and esthetic magnetism.

Friedman is best known for his crisply realistic landscapes, viewed through obstructing barriers like doorways and fences. His irregularly shaped canvasses duplicate the actual dimensions and geometry of the barriers. These trompe l'oeil ma chines offer a dynamic dialogue between picture plane and illusionism, real surface and fictional space -- the crux of the painter's art.

Zelehoski takes wooden objects and embeds them in flat panels.

He achieves this magical compression by diagonally cutting the boards so that they conform to the desired perspective. Wood scraps, painted in monochrome, fill the negative spaces to form the solid panel. The result is an unfiltered, unadulterated depiction of a real object. These worn, traveled surfaces help us recognize the random beauty in our lives.

"Double Vision" goes out of its way to make connections between the two artists. Both include a pair of similar images: a board and wooden block. Friedman even appropriates a work by Zelehoski in one of his large paintings.

Their means of depiction however remain fundamentally different. Friedman uses artifice, whereas Zelehoski reuses the artifact; it's a question of representation versus representation. Each approach is riveting.

Friedman is in his late career, and his work exhibits the artistic maturity and sureness of vision expected from a consummate master. The rapidly evolving Zel e hoski, yet to enter his middle years, is continuously exploring new directions. Gone are the earlier, purer images of intact furniture and crates -- his classical period. The found objects have now become the means rather than an end for image making. As these wooden planes dance or writhe on the spatial plane, a mannerist element is detected in the facile, frequently contorted illusionism.

"Double Vision" opens this Saturday with a public reception 4 to 6 p.m. If you can't squeeze that into your schedule, or squeeze into the gallery's tight space during the festivities, there will be plenty of time still to catch this must-see exhibit.