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After opening their doors in New York, I noticed Strychnin Gallery's uncanny ability to tap the artery of a virtually untouched group of local and international artists on the verge something bigger. All of these emerging artists typically fit into a darker or grotesque aesthetic. Strychnin occasionally has outside curators including:  Giovanni Cervi, Res Pira, Daniel Morla, and American graffiti artist CON. However, Yasha Young is the managing director primarily responsible for their unique reaction to modern art.  They represent or associate with such artists as David Stoupakis, Lori Field, Madeline Von Foerster, Richard Kirk, Ver Mar, and Chet Zar to name just a fraction. First born in Berlin, Strychnin now has another location in London which opened in the Fall of 2008. During my visit to Berlin, I thought it a necessity to investigate the next exhibition, "Bright Light - Dark Shadows: Chris Von Steiner vs. MKAN". 

At closer inspection, this two man show appeared oddly bias. Although, the main space was filled equally with both artists, the press release concentrates primarily on the artist statement of Chris Von Steiner. The name of the show was derived from his explanation, "Childhood is commonly regarded as the happiest time of human life. Growing up into adulthood however, we tend to forget that childhood is also a world of fears, tears, nightmares, drama, and violence..." Ending with, " These are the themes I have attempted to explore with this new series of work..." MKAN's statement pales in comparison. Not only does this juxtaposition highlight MKAN's lack of description in physical length, but it's brevity is deprived of any level of conciseness, and shows little connection to theme of the exhibition. Outside of the simple thread of a french ancestry which loosely ties the two artists, there is very little that brings their two bodies of work together. What considerations were taken while curating this show exactly? With analyzing the title itself, one would think that the "vs." implied an invitation to, at the very least, initiate a dialog between said artists.

Aside from the curator's questionable intent, the artwork itself seems to be lacking as well. Self proclaimed "digital wunder-kid", Chris Von Steiner, has prepared graphically interesting pieces; a dynamic of children and adolescents wielding weapons amongst the iconic graphics of the typical 1980's childhood. The provocative posing of these characters outfitted with Mickey mouse ears, and eerily familiar masks makes clear their dwindling sense of innocence. Nestled into fireworks of ultra-vibrant faux paint textures, the audience begins to wonder why the artist decided to mimic the effects of a medium instead of working directly with it. Was this a method of proving the superficiality of these canvases' subject matter, or the artist's overall lack of ability? Like displaying a print of a painting, Chris Von Steiner's work only toes the line of technique, overshadowing his aptitude as an artist.

Little has been written on or explained of MKAN's work. His poetic yet vague allegory awkwardly points to some of the same concerns of childhood as Von Steiner. Through assumption one might guess he photographs scenes of clowns acting out on their surroundings through obscene brutality. Then, rexamines the imagery with harsh black and white acrylics. The severity of action, as well as, execution would insinuate a clear sense of purpose for such acts. However, with little critique or verbage from the artist, one may only deduce that exploiting character violence is the primary motivation; taking MKAN's works for nothing more than face value.

The show as a whole, in all its color-drenched glory, lacks the grasp on the insightful interplay that it promises. An intermittent resolution could be developed into a substantially more thought-provoking display upon further exploration and collaboration. The foundation of my high (perhaps too high) expectations knocked down to a now more realistic level. Despite this lackluster opinion, I will remain curious until the next group exhibition, at any of the Strychnin locations, to understand any future attempt in pushing the boundaries of artistic experimentation. 


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Chris Von Steiner
Strychnin Gallery