Steve Brudniak: 'Noumenon'

Steve Brudniak's newest exhibition is thoroughly retro-futuristic, but don't use the "s" word to describe it

Arts Review

Steve Brudniak: 'Noumenon'

Dougherty Arts Center, through July 1

Steve Brudniak is "having to sort of fight the steampunk label," he says. Lest he be seen as other than (or worse: less than) a serious artist by art world opinion-makers and career-breakers is the implication. He's as wary as a Pynchon character, of that shadowy cabal whose private helicopters are not only black but individually painted, years ago, by Mark Rothko in a subterranean bunker far below the streets of Manhattan.

It's a pity if Brudniak spends any time fighting labels, because he needs all the time he can get to render his weird and personal visions into reality; because the world, ever-hungry for well-rendered depths of meaning and feasts for both eye and mind, needs all the Brudniak creations possible.

So we won't affix any labels to it, his aesthetic, noting only that pieces from Brudniak's expanding oeuvre so often resemble reliquaries that might have been manufactured by some 19th century precursor to Yoyodyne Propulsion Systems: dark wood and optical glass, molded iron and burnished brass, enclosing bits of hair or lengths of blood in precisely machined cases that appear to be sunk deep into the walls holding them.

At the Dougherty Arts Center (where the artist also presented "The Amuk Id Cathedral" show back in '93), Brudniak's new exhibit, "Noumenon," displays and documents the artist's continuing production of "assemblages of found objects imbued with science elements." One such assemblage, The Menagerie of Eternal Life, incorporates salt crystals that contain dormant but living bacteria more than 250 million years old. Yes, that's more than 250 million years old – the oldest living things ever found on this planet – as verified by their discoverer, Dr. Russell Vreeland of Pennsylvania's West Chester University. Brudniak's curiosity stretches much further than the stainless-steel tentacles dangling from his more recent constructions; his research and outreach extend as far into the world, it seems, as his craftsmanship extends into artistry.

Conspicuous by its absence, and represented instead by several digital photographs, is the artist's Astrogeneris Mementos series, built for local game-world impresario Richard Garriott; these are small reliquaries containing hair from the heads of Garriott and his astronaut father, which will soon be transported to the International Space Station for the first art show in orbit.

I've got this idea that if you could bring, say, Plato back to life and introduce him to the sculptures of, oh, Frank Stella, the old philosopher might very well retch. If Leonardo da Vinci came eye to canvas with the manifestations of Cy Twombly, that (definitive) Renaissance man might simply roll his eyes. But if Jules Verne and H.G. Wells were revived for a gander at Steve Brudniak's "Noumenon," they'd nod in deep satisfaction, their smiles communicating, "Yes, this is precisely what we had in mind so many years ago."

But whatever you do, for fuck's sake, don't call it steampunk.

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