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Review: New works at the Front 

D. Eric Bookhardt on shows by Ves Pitts, Sally Heller, Nina Schwanse and John Otte

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vWhen it comes to unexpected concepts, The Front has been on a hot streak of late, but probably no one could have anticipated anything quite as colorful as Ves Pitt's photographs, except perhaps a transsexual performance artist. A native of Alabama, Pitts spent two decades in New York documenting, as he puts it, "people who spend a lot of time on their appearance" even if they often look like escapees from The Rocky Horror Show. Pitts also covers the scene in London, Cairo and Miami, where he says, "the 1970s suburban housewife look is all the rage." But it's mostly a walk on the wild side of Manhattan's tranny demimonde where Pitts is part anthropologist and part impresario. He clearly loves his outrageous cast of characters and the feeling seems mutual, yielding images mingling shock and empathy in a singular photographic balancing act.

  Sally Heller has made a career of installation art made of all things cheap, glittery and disposable, and now she's turned her attention to female sexuality in collages of women constructed from an odd mix of calligraphy, press-type letters and glitter. Here bawdy babes made up mostly of text strut their stuff in a whole new twist on the word paintings of the postmodern past, creating an uneasy DMZ where Madonna's material girl coexists with feminist irony, even as Nina Schwanse's uber-ironic Babe Rental videos mingle feminine allure with hints of cash-and-carry convenience. In the back room, artist-curator John Otte's collage paintings improbably reconcile the elegant modernism of the School of Paris with the bracing brashness of New York's East Village in the 1980s. Imagine Matisse as a punk rocker with graffiti paint and glitter and you get the general idea. All of which reiterates the kaleidoscopic sense of shifting times, colors and cultures that pervades the gallery — with no shortage of bling! — D. Eric Bookhardt

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