The Chosen Ones at the Parrish Art Museum

A visual dialogue between discrete triads of artists who work and live on the East End
Left,Ben Butler’s “Elegy to the Disappearance of Objects,” Right, Tony Oursler’s “#ISO”. Elisabeth Bernstein; Lehmann Maupin, New York, Hong Kong

The stated aim of the Parrish Art Museum’s recurrent “Artists Choose Artists” exhibitions is to spark a visual dialogue between discrete triads of artists who work and live on the East End. Yet there is often a more comprehensive conversation that spreads between the walls and throughout the galleries, giving us a series of snapshots of current regional artistic practice and influences.

This year’s installation brings out these relationships, not always right next to each other and sometimes not even in the same room. Although there are practical issues at work in this decision, the effect on viewers is beneficial. Artists and their audiences do not necessarily need didactic demonstrations to make associations. If a piece is strong enough, a curator can trust that its themes and visual qualities will carry over from room to room.

The artists who participated this year lean heavily toward sculpture and the creation of objects, even when working in an essentially two-dimensional format. Those who have chosen exclusively two-dimensional mediums are predominantly figurative even when they veer toward abstraction.

Within those generalities, each artist’s work is quite specific. The closest visual affinities come from Dinah Maxwell Smith and RJT Haynes, who were chosen by Tina Barney, a photographer who delights in the quotidian and the banal. All three contribute works that are mostly ordinary evocations of leisure time. Ms. Barney’s photographs “American Flag” and “The Children’s Party,” with dates from the 1980s, have a timeless and generic quality. There’s not really a central subject in her compositions; the tiles become oblique references to something depicted that’s not immediately apparent.

Ms. Smith is more direct in her titles; “Beach Picnic” is just that. In “Five Suits,” however, the suited men standing in a huddle on the beach look out of place, even surreal. Mr. Haynes shares a good-size diptych that is photographic in its execution. One subject, who stands in the ocean in shallow water, may be taking a photo of the other with her phone. Yet each panel can stand alone, even as they are joined visually by the pattern of the water. As matter-of-fact as they look on the surface, the panels demand more than a cursory viewing.

The Parrish video of the curators’ visits to the chosen artists’ studios brought out a key contrast in both painters’ work when it came to photography. Mr. Haynes said in his interview that he preferred working from real life to photography, because of its inability to capture color and shadows accurately. Ms. Smith loves the details she can see in photographs that she said she would never pick up from direct observation.

Tony Oursler’s dynamic triad with Jackie Black and Marianne Weil demonstrates the artist’s occupation with both the figurative and varied mediums. Mr. Oursler’s “#ISO,” from last year, is a multimedia work that incorporates a large-scale panel of a man’s face inset with video screens for the eyes and mouth. The screens go through various permutations and produce sound, including ambient electronic noise and snippets of dialogue performed by Josie Keefe and Laura Hunt. 

Ms. Black’s photographs resonate visually with the stories they tell, whether documentations of the last meals requested by prisoners facing execution or the “Gun Show” series of photos that capture its subjects, such as a Smith and Wesson .22 caliber handgun, with the barrel facing toward the viewer, whereas Ms. Weil adapts her background in metal casting into works that use bronze and other materials as a framing or corseting device for blown glass. This is a case where the chosen artists are displayed in a separate room from the artist who selected them, but the affinities are strong enough to allow for comparison. 

In contrast, the room devoted to Donald Lipski, Suzanne Anker, and Ben Butler allows us to contemplate in a pure format the parallels in the artists’ work that inspired Mr. Lipski to select them. Scale, both large and small, is a primary consideration here. Mr. Lipski and Mr. Butler go for the grand gesture, and Ms. Anker forms her micro-worlds in petri dishes.

The aluminum canoe Mr. Lipski co-opts is hung on the wall like a recovered ark or indigenous people’s relic. It is studded with rolled-up New York Times newspapers, inserted through precisely drilled holes. Viewing it offers one of those vanitas moments where one becomes immediately aware not only of our evanescence relative to history but also our own inconsequentiality. It looks like something to be set afire and floated down a significant body of water to mark a passage or honor a dignitary.

The theme is made more literal by Ms. Anker, whose series “Vanitas (in a petri dish)” consists of 20 digital prints of still lifes of actual weird and wonderful objects. “Remote Sensing” is a corresponding series of three-dimensional forms in petri dishes, produced and colored by a printer and based on the photographs. As the founder of the Bio Art Lab at the School of Visual Arts, she is interested in the relationship between art and science.

Mr. Butler, too, concerns himself with science, in the form of geology. The natural forces of erosion are an inspiration for last year’s “Elegy to the Disappearance of Objects,” in wood, polymer, resin, and paint. The pale poplar framework is reminiscent of a toothpick sculpture with a case of gigantism. Standing 19 feet high, with a depth of 14 feet and width of 10, it is a colossal tribute, with the frame serving as a cage and support for the pieces of polystyrene he shaves and grooms into an undulating form referencing nature. There is a lot going on in this room, and it manages to coalesce nicely.

There are several other groupings: Lynda Benglis with Garrett Chingery and Saskia Friedrich, Jorge Pardo with Anne Bae and Monica Banks, Cindy Sherman with Bill Komoski and Toni Ross, and Leo Villareal with Karin Waisman and Almond Zigmund. All are meaningful and intriguing, but space demands brevity and these are relationships best explored visually, which can be done at the museum through Jan. 16.

On Jan. 6 at 6 p.m., Ms. Banks, Mr. Chingery, and Ms. Friedrich will discuss their works in the exhibition. The event is $12 and free for members, but requires reservations.

Suzanne Anker’s “Vanitas (in a petri dish)”