The general trend in contemporary art galleries these days is that a certain exclusivity can be achieved through sparse offerings. You won't find that at the Udinotti Gallery -- it's done little to change its look and feel in 20 years in downtown Scottsdale. At this gallery, the art is literally everywhere -- leaning against counters, nailed to cabinets, resting on the floor, perched on high shelves or stacked neatly in the corner of the somewhat hidden and mysterious second floor. Other pieces are actually hanging on walls, believe it or not.
"Old World charm" may be overused, but no other phrase suffices for the feel of this gallery. Paintings, photography, ceramics and sculptures -- some by owner Agnese Udinotti herself -- are casually placed amid exotic tribal art, Mexican masks and 19th-century Greek religious icons. A kitchenette, with its sink and counter filled with sliced fruit, stained tea cups, paintbrushes and an outdated hot plate, takes up the middle portion of the gallery. Books line every spot not already inhabited by works of art. It's the sort of mismatched combinations one might find in a private home -- which, it becomes increasingly clear, is exactly the point.
Udinotti, raised in Greece by Italian parents, is a survivor of the various political battles, turf wars and common business failings that have plagued the downtown Scottsdale arts district since the early 1980s. This survival hasn't come by showing popular or "safe" artwork; the artists she represents are those who share her own idea of art as something that is emotive and personal and brings with it a distinct perspective on the world at large.
Udinotti's current exhibition includes four photographers working in black and white. Though the four artists are grouped together under the general theme of black-and-white photography, their styles are quite disparate. While Peye Psimenou and Thais Zoe focus more on the mood that comes from specific events, Richard Quatart and Bob Carey are more figurative in nature, concerned mainly with the body and manipulating and interpreting the basic human form via the camera lens. Carey's work takes up the entire back room of the gallery, not because of quantity but because of the size of his prints. The other three are crowded together in the gallery's front room.
Psimenou is a Greek photographer whom Udinotti came across last year when she returned to Athens for her own retrospective. Psimenou's work consists of two main series -- one documenting theater productions in Greece and New York, the other showing impressionistic images of New York street personalities. The strongest of the show are those depicting a modernized Greek production of Hamlet. In one photo, an actor is covered with a black cloth and lies sprawled across a long set of white stairs. Further covering the actor is a large sheet with a handwritten passage, in Greek, from the text. Next to the body are two swords just out of reach, alluding to the grand duel and subsequent blood bath that ends the play. The work, like the others in the series, evokes a mood of quiet, brooding despair that is found in the play as well.
The gentle beauty that comes through such works in black and white makes one wonder why anyone invented color photography in the first place. Psimenou's images work well with the theater because their hazy, implied style lends to the feeling of anonymity of characters and feigned lives that is part of acting and drama.
Thais Zoe is a Los Angeles photographer whose work in this show documents a common Western rodeo. But Zoe forgoes mere documentation and focuses on the movement and form of figures involved in the drama of the event. In such focus, the rodeo becomes an exotic display of Americanism seen from the perspective of an outsider. It has the same effect of, say, an American looking at pictures of a Spanish bullfight or a Mexican funeral procession. Such works, like Psimenou's and Zoe's, use muddled figures against stark backgrounds to elevate the objects in the works from mere images to forms that take on iconographic implications.
Quatart's and Carey's work deals with the body in two very different ways. Quatart, using infrared film, photographs a woman's body, then superimposes the form with another photograph. In this exhibition, they are of organic materials or Renaissance paintings. The most successful of the bunch is a woman's figure imbued with the screaming, wide-open mouth of Caravaggio's Medusa. While the infrared film combined with the double images is intended to give a surrealistic, dreamlike look to the work, most instead are too faithful to the physical shape of the body to break the genre of figurative work.
Carey's work, dealing with the manipulation of his own heavy form, is mainly similar to his successful exhibit at the ASU Art Museum except for the sudden disappearance of one small detail: his penis. Yes, the little guy -- sorry, but as a critic, I must call it as I see it (okay, maybe it was just cold in your studio) -- was the star of last year's show, swinging back and forth in the full-size video East/West or being completely exposed in most of the other works. This time around, Carey actually tucks him in -- but a penisless Carey, still painted in silver and still naked and shaved, still manages to speak of the anxieties of being a male just the same as the old model.
In the two decades of its existence, the Udinotti Gallery has managed to survive in the competitive Scottsdale art market not through adapting to tried-and-true methods of business, but rather by creating and sustaining a unique artistic vision. It's only natural, then, that artists like Psimenou or Carey, who share a similar individual ambition, would eventually end up coming through Udinotti's front door.
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