Ali Banisadr’s installation at the Matrix gallery at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut is a haunting, yet realistic metaphor for the world we live in today. The artist exhibits 12 original works along with a curated section with works by other artists which were available in the museum’s archive, and were ‘inspirations’ for the artists work. Upon entering the gallery, your eye immediately goes to the largest work which stands opposite the door for added effect. It is entitled the healers and is a rabid frenzy of oil paint colored in the industrial blues, greys, reds, and silvers of an inner city’s social network internet cyberstructure. This complex arrangement of shapes immediately takes the form of a mass of huddled figures who are bent out of proportion into the twisted amalgamation of, with a quick glance around the room, which is Banisadr’s signature style. Moving clockwise around the gallery, you come upon the painting entitled “Red” which to me likens of fires burning deep inside a blast furnace, the likes of which you would see at a metal smelting plant. However the figures are still there in the foreground with a more aquatic feel this time, with deep sea teeth gnashing turquoise and pale green ellipses who fade into the background to the ‘trench’ which becomes an orange sky. While many people could interpret this one as being a nod to this year’s COVID epidemic, I see it as something much more striking. A look at what will become of our planets climate. An encroachment and slow death of our oceans. A reddening of the sky, with the heat from the sun beating down on the last cool places which will be familiar to us, until they are gone.
Moving forward about the gallery, we come upon a smaller multimedia work which was made with aquatint with photogravure, spitbite, drypoint, and burnishing on paper. None of which I have the faintest idea what process they entail. The picture is gritty, granular, and raw. Its use of black, white, and a few seemingly bioluminescent figures appearing out of the cloud are the few things that make this one stand out from the others. Next we have “Cannon Hidden in Roses” on paper, using the same media to make out the forms on the page. This one is much more colorful and takes hints from 1960’s graffiti/ newspaper works of the likes of contemporaries such as Jaune Smith and Yoko Ono.
Around to the right is “The Caravan” and one of my personal favorites of the installation. Its light background tinged with purple sings to the viewer, while the curvature of the few inflections on top, bring a sense of inner peace. The figures there are playful, and whimsical. Meanwhile the foreground is like an abstraction of a PT Barnum Circus, complete with three rings. While the rings don’t play a part in the actual painting, here all the trappings of a school of gypsy playwrights who travel for pleasure and money are present. Simply a delight.
Following are two more, named “Interior” and “Exterior,” and they are similar in nature and color to “Cannon Hidden in Roses” from before. “Treasure” follows and is as true to name as can be with seagulls swooping down to pick gold doubloons or pieces or bread without discretion from the hands of unwary seafaring travelers below. The green and gold gives this painting an air of murk and plunder from unscrupulous watery depths.
There are four more original works in the gallery (one slightly hidden) and a curated section which brings one of the four walls to life with a contrasting collection of artifacts from the Museum, including a Goya. See for yourself.