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Art in Review; 'Constellation'

By GRACE GLUECK
Published: May 5, 2006

May Wilson, Ray Johnson, Al Hansen, Buster Cleveland and John Evans
Pavel Zoubek Gallery
533 West 23rd Street, Chelsea Through May 27

Don't expect a Motherwellian gentility from the quirky collagists May Wilson, Ray Johnson, Al Hansen, Buster Cleveland and John Evans in ''Constellation.'' Subversiveness is their stock in trade. They were chosen for this show because they formed a kind of friendship nexus while also being part of the larger alternative scene that encompassed Pop, Fluxus, performance and mail art. Dada and Surrealism helped form their irreverent sensibilities; shared ironies about life and particularly the art world quickened their work.

The art of May Wilson (1905-1986) on view here includes odd juxtapositions of objects like a silver-painted toy puppy in a toaster, dolls wrapped like mummies and painted a single color, and several ''Ridiculous Portraits'' that collage Wilson's head onto the bodies of women in well-known paintings. These only hint at her wide-ranging talent for creative discombobulation.

A selection of faux-naïve natterings and constructions from the ingeniously obsessive Ray Johnson (1927-1995) includes a letter to Joan Crawford, on a large wooden board with a dirty white slingback shoe attached, beginning, ''It is a nice day so & there for I thought I should write you.''

Al Hansen (1927-1995) is felicitously represented by several collages that make word play from Hershey bar wrappers, and by examples of his erotic dolls and Venuses, fashioned from cigarette butts. From Buster Cleveland (1943-98) there are works of poured plastic studded with colored beads over collaged reliefs that home in on consumer products like Coke or that josh the art world, like his altered Artforum magazine covers.

The most prolific talent here is John Evans, who was born in 1932. For nearly 40 years until he quit in 2000, he kept a daily diary in the form of a collage, cryptically assembled from bits of paper, fragments of photos and such, brightly tied together by colored inks. His long-running visual monologue comments in lively fashion on the real and the art worlds (a sample, shown here, embellishes a polite rejection letter from the Whitney Museum). His work, along with that of his pals, makes this a show to see and remember. -- GRACE GLUECK


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