Currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum is a mid career retrospective of the work of Fred Tomaselli. The show is comprised of nearly 50 pieces, spanning back to the mid 80’s. The works are elaborate mixed media compositions created from a variety of materials, from carefully cut out images to pills and plant life, all encased under layers of clear resin.
The three primary galleries are loosely grouped by theme. The first room focuses on abstract pieces such as Black and White All Over. This work is constructed entirely of pills and paint strokes, organized into vertical lines, a minimalist work that when viewed can be disorienting, like some sort of optical illusion. The expansive Echo, Wow and Flutter, can also be found in this gallery and is made of images of birds, body parts and flowers, as well as more pills of different shapes and sizes that have been strung together into intertwining rings.
The second gallery space is devoted to works based on the figure. Untitled (Expulsion), combines leaves, pills, mushrooms a photo collage and paint to depict Adam and Eve being cast out of the Garden of Eden. The apparent exposure of the figures’ circulatory systems puts them in stark contrast to the dark background. The majority of the piece, covered in the bright ornate, almost psychedelic imagery that we see echoed in many of his works.
In the third gallery, nature, and in particular birds, appears to be the unifying theme. Works include the photo collage Big Raven where Tomaselli presents a large bird perched on a stone that gives the impression it is disintegrating into circular patterns across the piece. In Starling, Tomaselli has chosen bugs and insects to make up the throat and stomach of a bird, presumably the food it would have consumed.
The pieces beckon viewers to closely inspect the art, and those who do are rewarded. The materials are revealed and allow for a sense of the process, the countless hours spent executing these detailed works. And although Tomaselli is using drugs to create and compose the work, the method he is best known for, the narcotics do not seem to dominate the subject matter, they are simply the ingredients, employed almost as a pointillist painter would utilize distinct dots of color. To garner their full impact and see the scale and meticulous craftsmanship, the pieces should be seen in person. Even if you are under whelmed by the concepts, pleasure can still be found in the playful details and clever use of materials.