The first thing you notice upon entering “A Walk,” the new exhibition at the Tripoli Gallery in East Hampton, is the white wall-to-wall deep-pile carpeting — not so much how it looks but the way the feet sink into it and the slight resistance it provides — almost an impediment — even as it also soothes. It is an unusual experience for gallery and museum floors that are almost always bare wood, cement, brick, or marble, depending on the venue.
The carpet isn’t all that’s on the floor. Many of the objects in “A Walk” are placed at ground level, the way they would be encountered on a town or country stroll. Some are large enough to assess while standing, but many require dropping down to floor level to get a better gander, also why the carpet is a good idea.
Yuji Agematsu, whose work occupies both wall and floor, is one of the artists who engages viewers from the entrance throughout the exhibition. His random accumulations of street waste, flotsam and jetsam he encounters on everyday wanderings in the city, lead to delicate pieces that have a visual resonance far beyond their former utility.
Some objects defy identification; others, like the remnants of a cigarette wrapper, might make themselves known after some examination. A braided lock of hair in one assemblage forges a recurrent theme: many of his groupings of found objects are tangled in small webs of hair.
In contrast to these urban excavations, the floor piece of Michael E. Smith looks like a rotting log in the woods. It’s untitled, but the medium, “goose and plastic,” explains much. The mottled features are actually feathers, matted down with some sort of resin. The headless, tailless, and footless body becomes an abstraction in a surprising way. Once the source of the piece is revealed, it is clear that the artist has not done that much to it to yield such a foreign object. He just saw the potential dissociation possible with a few nips and tucks.
There is other art here that has nothing to do with found objects. The exhibition, organized by Rob Teeters, takes its inspiration from a novella by Robert Walser, a Swiss writer. In an excerpt supplied in a press release, the function of the objects in the show becomes clear: “All things great and good emerged brightly with marvelous, uplifting gestures. Attentively I looked only at what was most slight and most humble, while the heavens seemed to incline far up into the heights and down into the depths. The earth became a dream.”
The apparently blank canvases of Quentin Curry are not blank and not canvases. He treats wood panels in such a way that they are transformed into what we expect them to be, woven material stretched around a wood frame to give it structure. He paints the surface white though a screen. This provides the texture that allows the illusion. The nail studs that line the piece on all sides are not nails at all; they are just built-up paint that can be brass- or pewter-colored depending on the piece.
In the case of “Made Ready,” a neat little pun, the nail color on two sides is silver-toned, while the other sides are gold-toned. Just as the title implies, it looks ready for the actual work to come. If not examined closely, the entire purpose and meaning of it would be lost. Just like most of the art in the show, the true essence is only revealed through extended contemplation. In a digital world where so much art is seen on a small screen, Mr. Curry’s pieces demand actual interaction.
Back down on the floor are Ryan Estep’s masses of translucent balls of anti-bacterial soap, slightly larger than billiards. They can be kicked around or grouped together or pulled apart. They have a satisfying weight and texture to them and invite further engagement with the floor and the carpet.
The same artist has made a negative, in effect, of his soapy sculpture in a work that incorporates sterilized dirt forced through a screen onto canvas. The process yields a richly textured and visual work with a composition that seems smoky and ethereal, even as it employs one of the most solid of materials, both physically and metaphorically. The soap he places on the floors and the dirt hung on the wall is subversive, subtle, and intriguing. These are objects that attract viewers with their aesthetic beauty and yet stand for something so much more in terms of contemporary society’s obsession with cleanliness and purity, made moot by the rise of super-bacteria and other threats that this obsession has helped introduce.
A real show stealer is Daniel Dewar and Grégory Gicquel’s “Le Menuet,” an animated GIF featuring a huge block of clay that yields various male nudes from torso to feet. The piece shows the finished objects, but not the carving that made them. Viewers are left to conclude, by the diminishing size of the block, that all were taken from it. The torsos actually walk, in the way they are placed in the animation, giving those in the gallery their own surrogates. But as the block diminishes and the torsos vanish, there is also a sense of loss, an ephemeral quality that leads to longing for the past and the clay’s beginning and unachieved possibilities.
A neon work by Keith Sonnier, “Ebo River Series,” provides another version of attention-grabbing materials and fulfills the notion of a circuit that many people’s walking paths take, according to Tripoli Patterson, who is giving over his entire gallery for the first time to an outside curator. After deciding to add an East Hampton space to his Southampton gallery, he said, he determined to share it when appropriate, even though he is still acclimating himself to the practice. But he is very pleased with this exhibition, and he should be. The concept and its realization are resonant and well presented.
Other artists in the show are Lucy Dodd, Bjarne Melgaard, Bruce M. Sherman, and Bill Walton. It is on view through July 19.