Looking into the play of light

Clockwise from top right: ''Open Sleeping'' by Udo Nöger; ''Cheese'' by Matt Siber; a detailed view of sculptor Beth Galston's ''Luminous Garden (Aerial).'' Clockwise from top right: ''Open Sleeping'' by Udo Nöger; ''Cheese'' by Matt Siber; a detailed view of sculptor Beth Galston's ''Luminous Garden (Aerial).'' (-)
By Cate McQuaid
Globe Correspondent / May 6, 2009
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Back in 1949, the Italian artist Lucio Fontana started slashing his paintings with a knife. Slicing into the sacrosanct canvas, he brought space, not just its illusion conveyed in paint, into the picture.

In the same spirit, Udo Nöger investigates the surprising architecture of paintings in his remarkable works at Walker Contemporary. Nöger is a connoisseur of light. His paintings explore luminosity, but not just with the usual tricks of pigment and reflectivity.

Nöger builds his works with three layers. He cuts forms out of the canvas in the middle layer and paints around them in whites and grays. The outer layer is not canvas - it's a silky, translucent fabric that Nöger doesn't name. The third layer is a canvas backdrop. The result is uncanny. Light enters the work, and the cut forms cast pale shadows and take on a frail but palpable three-dimensionality.

For "Blue," he has cut a round hole that looks like a winter pond circled with rime, iced over but not frozen through. The oval has depth, but it also throws a soft light back out at us. He surrounds it with light brushwork in whites and grays, light and shadow flitting on a snow bank.

In "Zerfindend" and several other paintings, he uses a horizon line to add yet another dimension. Here, untouched white hangs above the horizon; below it's white-gray, streaked and textured with brushstrokes. Two willowy verticals cut from the inner canvas drop from top to bottom. Amid the brushstrokes along the bottom, they're soft tubular forms of pearly gray hanging in space. On top, they're whispers of white even paler than their surroundings; like flames, they rise and disappear.

Nöger uses his paintings' structure and the gallery lights to create form and volume. Because everything happens beneath the outer layer, it's as if we're perceiving the inner life of a painting. Since paintings often act as mirrors, Nöger prompts us to sense our own depths.

Getting ethereal
Sculptor Beth Galston has spent years working with light, and in recent years she's been building gardens out of it. "Luminous Garden (Aerial)" at Boston Sculptors Gallery is the sixth "Luminous Garden" environment and the most ethereal of the ones I have seen. Her father, a scientist who researched the interaction of plants and light, has influenced her work; both of her parents died in recent months, and Galston dedicates this lovely, ethereal piece to them.

She sets tiny amber lights in cast-resin acorn caps, which hover over and amid tangles of delicate wire in a darkened room. Each little cluster of acorn buds seems to defy gravity; this looks more like a gathering of fairies than a garden. The colored wires seem to buoy the lights. The red wires reflect them, so as you wander about the installation, threads of rosy red dash around within it, quick as lightning. All the blossoms of light appear to spring from this tangle of wires, suggesting a reassuring interconnectedness.

Also at Boston Sculptors Gallery, Lorey Bonante's "flights of fancy" show fits neatly with Galston's. Bonante builds critters out of found objects; she coats each in beeswax, which gives it the feeling of an artifact trapped in amber.

There's a wall full of butterflies crafted from old quilts, a creepy but delightful box full of worms made from rolls of ribbons, and a compact stuffed with pompoms, some affixed with tiny eyes. The marriage of domestic and wild is understated but necessary; this artist manages to avoid the saccharine with her sly edge of weirdness.

Off solid ground
Three photographers throw any vestige of the belief that photography represents reality to the winds in "Stranger Than Fiction," a fun if not entirely surprising exhibit at OH+T Gallery.

Matt Siber shoots roadside scenes and digitally removes the posts from beneath any signs. The word "Cheese," for example, hangs above a Wisconsin gift shop. It's a simple trope that imbues the ungrounded signs with far more significance, as if they're text messages from God, without changing their content.

Steve Aishman is a mad scientist as well as an artist: He grafts flowers onto unfamiliar stems, then photographs them against a black background, with their roots hanging out. They're eerily beautiful, bright but on the verge of death, each single plant a bouquet of more than one kind of blossom.

I love Lori Nix, but OH+T has mounted two of her photographs of intricate and theatrical tableaus that were in a Nix show at Miller Block Gallery earlier this year. They fit well with Siber and Aishman's work - indeed, Nix is a cut above them. Her elaborate sets depicting urban decay are astonishing. Something new - or at least something else - would have served this show better.

UDO NÖGER: Little Islands At: Walker Contemporary, 450 Harrison Ave., through May 30. 617-695-0211,

BETH GALSTON: Luminous Garden (Aerial) LOREY BONANTE: flights of fancy At: Boston Sculptors Gallery, 486 Harrison Ave., through May 24. 617-482-7781, STRANGER THAN FICTION At: OH+T Gallery, 450 Harrison Ave., through May 16. 617-423-1677,