Rice paper aerobics exercises, blotchy watercolor eeriness, and vast colorful landscapes all intermingle in a dance of shapes and shades in Phantasmagoria, an exhibit of works on paper that opened this past Friday at Bushwick’s IDIO Gallery, curated by Gillian Zinser and IDIO’s director Montana Simone.
Not only do these works all fall in line with the notion of a “phantasmagoria” (defined in a blurb as “a show of theatrical illusions, dream-like spectacle and public séance”), they are all created by women artists. Simone is no stranger to all-female shows, having curated last year’s She/Folk show with the titular art collective, which included a group art show, bands, and a panel featuring female artists and feminist scholars moderated by Jacqueline Mabey, the creator of Wikipedia-editing initiative Art+Feminism.
However, Simone tells me that with Phantasmagoria they did not set out to do another all-women show, but that it was something she noticed had happened after her and Zinser had finalized the show’s artists. Thus, they chose to market it accordingly.
“We decided not to put the all-women thing forward and just let the work speak for itself,” says Simone. “I think it’s a lot of things before it’s a feminist show. I think it’s very playful and colorful and masterful. Inventive, abstract… It’s very fascinating.”
The works themselves are vibrant and surreal, offering the perfect antidote to the current gray and slush-filled outside world. Colors that recall scoops of sherbet or rich slabs of taffy—coral pink, orange, soft teal—explode across nearly every piece, creating a sense of unity that still manages to be delightfully unpredictable.
Phantasmagoria’s origin was a bit unconventional, Simone explains. Zinser, along with the show’s media partner A Women’s Thing Quarterly, brought a deck of the artists’s works to Simone and her gallery. She was hesitant at first, as IDIO typically does not take any outside show submissions, but Simone was so drawn to the works that she saw no other choice than to say yes.
She was wise to do so. Consisting of seven artists from Baltimore, LA, and New York who are all in varying stages of their careers, the art of Phantasmagoria pulls off being both fun and skillful.
“It’s a really big mix of styles,” Simone tells me, showing me around. “I love that you can’t really tell who is early-career or mid-career or late-career. It’s a nice age mix.”
Lola Rose Thompson’s pieces catch my eye immediately; they’re dark and spindly watercolor works that halfway recall those bone-chilling Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark books you both loved and deeply feared as a child, but they’re kinder looking and have dreamier titles like “People Fighting Because They’re Soooo In Love” and “People Falling In Love With Each Other For No Reason.”
Beth Hoeckel’s collage-based pieces serve as a intriguing contrast, injecting bursts of sharp realism with a surreal bent to the smudgier and more abstract works in the show. She tells A Women’s Thing in an interview that she began seriously focusing on the medium “based on a need to create but lack of resources,” and this creative adaptation has served her well.
Meanwhile, Dale Appleman’s abstract landscape-esque paintings render colors so soft and rich I practically wanted to bury my face in them. Between that, Kimia Ferdowsi Kline’s vibrant scenes bursting with surprising detail, and Caroline Echols’s satisfyingly-simple cardboard and paper paintings, I felt a true sense of childlike wonder combined with a tangible skill and vision.
Rounding out the bunch was Hannah Rose Dumes’s muted rice-paper aerobics collage and Mattea Perrotta’s minimalistic anthropomorphic charcoal, playfully distorting notions of the human form.
That’s not all that was on display. Downstairs, the playful nature of the works on the walls sprang to life as the gallery’s raw blacklit basement space steadily filled with people and the evening went from quaint art opening to vibrant art party.
Once things really started getting going, filmmaker and performance artist Nana Ghana caused a hush to fall over the crowd with a movement-driven performance centering around the goddess Isis. She appeared as a mysterious silhouette while a whispery audio track played, then slowly emerged into the middle of the crowd alongside an altar of countless candles and crystals until she orchestrated her finale by setting off a color bomb that hissed and smoked. It was almost as if the goddess herself had come and gone, disappearing in a puff of smoke.
Rather than the typical stuffy notions of “art world” gallery opening attendees, those who flocked to IDIO Gallery (and they did so in droves; the room was packed) were refreshingly warm and sociable. I came alone and left having made several friends, which is something I never expect to happen at art openings.
This is doubtlessly due to the DIY sensibility with which Simone runs the gallery. The space—which is tucked away in an industrial area, has bedrooms in its basement, and lies across the street from a fragrant tortilla factory—not only serves as a formal gallery space but has also hosted music shows, film screenings, and performance art. Simone tells me she’s often reimagining the look of the space entirely to match the tone of what’s happening in it. Her hard work and eye for both arts and entertainment has resulted in a space that is a exquisite phantasmagoria in itself, managing to be a respectable gallery and yet so much more.
“I feel like I’m on an episode of Girls!” an attendee exclaimed over the pulsing music of DJ Maria Chavez, surrounded by PBR-clutching folk and an Eames chair or two.
Before you side-eye her, admit it: we’ve all had that moment.
Phantasmagoria, curated by Montana Simone and Gillian Zinser and co-presented by A Women’s Thing Quarterly is on view until February 8 at IDIO Gallery, 976 Grand Street, East Williamsburg. More info here.