Work by Sharon Dowell, Shaun Richards, Derek Toomes
Flanders Gallery
Through May 29

When you enter the Flanders Gallery for Crash, its current three-artist show now in its final week of exhibition, the eye is immediately drawn to Shaun Richards’ massive studies of turned-over, wrecked cars.

On one wall, in a colorfully grotesque homage to Andy Warhol’s “Marilyn” prints, 15 ruined cars are arranged in horrific collisions against bleak, empty landscapes; lines of paint drip from the images, as if the cars themselves are bleeding. The other walls are dominated by huge car-crash compositions, each titled after a recent big-budget blockbuster: “National Treasure,” “Lost Highway,” “Vanishing Point.” Upon closer examination, one finds that these canvases have been constructed out of old car advertisements that, in context, take on a hauntingly spectral quality, as if the false promises of a simpler era have careened once and for all off the road. The viewer is left with the disquieting sensation that the laws of physics have been suspended, but only temporarilythat at any second the filmstrip will resume and all these weightless cars will all come crashing loudly back to earth.

Richards’ work is the show’s most literal and most visceral engagement with the “crash” theme, but both of Crash‘s other artists likewise confront the viewer with quietly apocalyptic violence. For Derek Toomes, the violence is vaguely sexual; his compositions combine a graffiti aesthetic with scenes that seem to have been lifted from vintage pornography, a combination that is at once disturbing and oddly natural. Taken together, the images suggest what the walls might look like in the city of your subconscious. In several, a grinning dog skull watches two women make love; in others, women stare blankly back at the viewer over half-visible advertising slogans and stenciled price indicators so old they’re still measured in cents. Here the connection to Crash is suggestively allusive; Toomes names as an influence the famous 1973 J.G. Ballard novel, and the wall of the installation includes a quote from the novel which suggests Toomes’s own conflation of sex and death: “[He] saw the whole world dying in a simultaneous automobile disaster, millions of vehicles hurled together in a terminal congress of spurting loins and engine coolant.”

Of the three artists in Crash, Sharon Beth Dowell’s work is the most abstract, with colorful intersections of lines and angles that suggest (sometimes) vaguely urban landscapes and (other times) computer hardware or streaming binary code. The most abstract of these works, and the most visually engaging, combine the two: In Command Not Found, Error, Meltdown and Binary Burst, in which architectural and digital structures compete for our attention and bleed into one another. For Dowell, then, the “crash” is both a housing crash and a computer crashthe collapse, that is, of the crucial networks of information and capital that have left the whole world broke. At the same time, Dowell’s work makes visible the breakdown between the modern subject and the various worlds she navigates; for Dowell, digital code is just another space we haunt, as indistinct and ungraspable as the real-life urban structures left to rot after decades of neglect.