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War and Illusion 

We live in a curious time. A sputtering economy and a sputtering war have made people wary. The powers that be behave in a manner that many cannot fathom, responding to a recession with a massive transfer of wealth to the richest among us, and to the traumatic Sept. 11 terrorist attack with an invasion of a nation, Iraq, that despite being ruled by an evil dictator, had no apparent connection to 9/11. The continuing casualties, and windfall profits to politically connected corporations, have inevitably bred suspicion, cynicism and protest.

Political protest has a long history in art, yet ceramic artists are rarely known for such content. Joe Bova's Politics and War show at Marguerite Oestreicher may change all that with works that are expressionistic in tone yet often reductive, or simplified, in form. Tank is a 2-foot-long Army tank in camouflage paint with a big cannon poking out in front. Emerging from its turret are the head and shoulders of a monkey, its face a picture of grim, simian determination. And while it is not immediately self-evident that it was modeled after our commander-in-chief, there may be some who will wonder.

Far scarier is American Daughter, an Army babe being all that she can be, packing heat in each hand. Lethally sexy in her tight-fitting fatigues, she grins her all-American grin at a hostile world, only here it's a grinning death's head like something out of Mexican Day of the Dead iconography, an image worthy of Goya. Another skull appears in Destroyer, a simplified rendition of a Navy destroyer, with a big skull where the main gun turret would be, giving it a mythic or dreamlike presence.

Perhaps most amazing is the enigmatically titled 10/26, a 29-inch-long rendition of Lady Liberty, no longer holding her torch high above the New York City harbor but laid to rest on a funeral boat, her robes adorned with many little skulls, and it's all rather disturbing yet beautifully crafted. Everyone remembers 9/11, but for civil libertarians 10/26, the birthday of the Patriot Act, marked an attack on America of another sort. Others among Bova's cast of characters include Mr. CEO, a gesticulating wild boar in a business suit, and New Millennium Woman, a chic businesswoman wearing a gas mask with her power suit, clutching a cell phone in one hand and a GI .45 in the other. As shows go, this one melds impressive craft with views that might have been considered over-the-top during a more innocent time in history. But alas, in today's climate, many will see it an natural response to our own government's arguably over-the-top policies and positions.

During the relatively calm late 20th century, postmodernism became entrenched in academia and in some areas of the arts. Much of it dealt with the effects of mass communications media on our perceptions, and this concern also seems to inform Boris Zakic's work at Jonathan Ferrara, big canvases that typically look more like manipulated photos than paintings. In Translation #30, From Text to Texture, a nude female figure, head cocked to the side to face her own negative image, seems to emerge from photo emulsion. Many 35mm slides are scattered on the ambiguous surface behind her, where obscure writing and a realistically rendered paint roller appear in 3-D relief. Around it is a black border with a Fujichrome ID, adding to the convoluted confusion of contexts.

Translation #25, (From) Phantom Space (to Academic Space is similar if simpler. Here a magenta pink nude appears against an ambiguous sort of dirty cyan background, and this time the 35mm slides are scattered all over her as well as a replica of her torso that appears, phantom like, in the space next to her. More cryptic writing seems to float just above the background, an abstract illusionist technique reminiscent of Richard Johnson's pop abstractions and, like the rest, it uses images to confound appearances, suggesting how mass communications media have made a virtual reality out of the world around us (including, to some extent, the art world). Maya, in other words, the Hindu term for illusion. It's all painted with impressive virtuosity, and while thematically constrained, Zakic covers his chosen territory with mind boggling thoroughness and detail. An artist to watch.

click to enlarge She wants you: Joe Bova's American Daughter has a Day of the Dead air about it, grinning an - all-American grin at a hostile world.
  • She wants you: Joe Bova's American Daughter has a Day of the Dead air about it, grinning an all-American grin at a hostile world.
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