‘Velvet’ on Brick at Christy’s in Sag Harbor

Art in an evocative setting
Nathan Slate Joseph, who is the subject of a Lana Jokel film to be screened on Sunday at Christy’s Art Center in Sag Harbor, also has work on view in the “Velvet Elvis” exhibition in the gallery.

The Christy’s Art Center on Madison Street in Sag Harbor is an evocative space to view art. With cement floors, brick walls, and funky archways it has a cave-like atmosphere and is not always an easy place to hang wall pieces, making it a challenge for all but the most intrepid curators.

There have been a couple of shows this year and some screenings organized by Julie Keyes, Pamela Willoughby, and Ashley Dye. Currently on view is “Velvet Elvis,” a seemingly disparate grouping of artworks in several mediums, all brought together primarily through their makers’ associations with Ms. Willoughby. 

One exception is Nathan Slate Joseph, an artist well represented in the gallery, whose inclusion in the show appeared to be a contribution of Ms. Keyes. Working contemporaneously with the likes of Brice Marden and John Chamberlain, Mr. Joseph is one of those artists whose work has been lauded and purchased by influential collectors and museums, but who never became as well known as his colleagues.

He works in several mediums, but his most well known are pieces in found steel that he gives a painterly treatment. In two works titled “Untitled Black,” he shows his range from welded and bent steel to a two-dimensional composition of pigment on canvas. Both highlight the operation of light and shadow in helping enliven the motion and tension in the compositions, which seem to be inspired by each other. 

Very densely packed, his steel sculptures mine similar compositional territory to work by Franz Kline but have a lot more activity. The painting, which could almost be a negative of the sculpture, captures a push-pull struggle of light and darkness. 

His narrow “Urbana” series, also in steel and represented here, looks like a combination of Jenga and squared off Lincoln Logs, towering skyward, and anywhere from five to seven feet tall.

Jean-Michel Basquiat is represented by two of his calling cards, color Xeroxes he made and cut in the studio, signing them and handing them out to new acquaintances. One recipient of these approximately 5-by-4-inch cards was Andy Warhol, who went on to work with the young protégé in a famous collaboration in the 1980s. 

Another piece from the period is Rene Ricard’s “Matisse,” a line drawing in the style of Matisse that Ricard signed with the name of the artist. Playing with ideas of authorship, which was very popular at the time, he calls into question artistic value and the aura of authenticity as it relates to it.

Nicole Nadeau’s  “It’s Not Fun Anymore” is a series of three medicine cabinets with fun house mirrors electroplated to them. Her resin pieces incorporate wax and matches laid out in grids on cardboard. The matches are burnt to a crisp, which gives them a scorched-earth effect. 

One of the most playful of the artists in the show is Randy Polumbo, whose dildo-packed Birken-shaped bags in blown glass are simultaneously challenging and silly. The two bags sit on pedestals in different spots in the space. In a wall piece, a shiny sheet metal frame holds what look like glass starfish in a central recess and in circular nooks at the four corners. When looked at closely, the same phallic shapes emerge.

Mason Saltarrelli, a former assistant of Julian Schnabel, who worked with him in Montauk, has been on his own for several years and has shown here regularly. His three mixed-media works on paper use mostly linear imagery that picks up on some of the same forces at work in the other art in the gallery.

In fact, the more time one spends in the space, the clearer the relationships become between the various compositions and styles on display. There is a strong interplay with rigid geometry and the freehanded undulating path that animates many of the works here, whether they are in two or three dimensions.

One artist who stands out as not really fitting into the overall scheme in a direct way is Hush. His large-scale work “Inception” mixes a tondo, or rounded panel support, with shard-like compositional strips of mixed-media design. The palettes of his screenprint portraits of geishas complement nearby artwork, but stand out as non-abstract.

Also on view is a piece by Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe, who just finished a solo run at the Fireplace Project in Springs. Their abstract oil on canvas fits more seamlessly into the overall scheme of the gallery.

The title “Velvet Elvis” leaves one wondering. Likenesses of the early rock idol on velvet have defined kitsch since the late-20th century. There are some overt references to pop culture here, but that doesn’t seem to be where the theme is going. Instead the title seems to suggest that the curators are having some summer fun, bringing together this group of people in a way that is respectful, but with tongues planted firmly in their cheeks. 

They will screen another documentary, Lana Jokel’s “The Way It Goes” on Nathan Slate Joseph, with a discussion on Sunday from 8 to 10 p.m.

Randy Polumbo's "Galacticopia"