Computer coding, dot matrixes and mechanized production seeped into painting long ago. What distinguishes the artists represented here from Andy Warhol, James Rosenquist or Roy Lichtenstein, for example, is that those pop artists from the '60s carried forward the figurative tradition, even if in a manner unconventional to fine art of the time. Forty years later, advanced technology fragments and codifies the visual world at increasing speed. Today the "figure" is often a visual byte.
The problem with "Adaptation Syndrome" is that while its artists astutely recognize and express the complexities and idiosyncrasies of our visual environment, their art is no more satisfying than the imagery it mocks or emulates.
Daniel Raedeke's slick panels patterned with rows of bumps painted in brilliant enamel speak to the way consumer goods have adapted to become desirable to both the eye and the touch. Sylvan Lionni's abstraction based on digital coding in "Pick 6" responds to images controlled by computer programs. But while both artists successfully pull off technical challenges, they end up with visual one-liners.
Jeff McMahon spins conceptually challenging and visually rich images by using both traditional painting techniques and modern advertising strategy. McMahon paints borrowed image fragments from multiple sources as diverse as fine art and advertising text. Grouped together in multiples as they are here, the disparate images inspire the viewer to find links that could explain their connection. One soon realizes that like the best of the 30-second television ad, McMahon has grabbed our attention with illogical but sensual imagery. By presenting it on boxy canvas panels that are unframed, he blurs the distinction between fine art and objects for fast consumption.
Shirley Kaneda's paintings "Devoted Adversary" and "Smooth Abrasion," both recently seen in the artist's solo show at Reynolds Gallery, help make the case that art created as a reaction to image domination doesn't have to be on the chilly side. Kaneda's color is often flat and antiseptic, but it swirls, bleeds and contorts in abstractions that have both mechanical and human qualities. These hybrids seem to possess a playful life of their own. Along with McMahon, Kaneda serves up art that is fresh and relevant.
Ripe with technical feats but short on substance, "Adaptation Syndrome" doesn't measure up to its dramatic title. And while its artists make the case that the world is saturated with images that weren't around when Warhol, Rosenquist and Lichtenstein were making art, they have yet to prove that their art is any newer than the masters from the '60s. S
"Adaptation Syndrome: Painting in Contemporary Image Culture" runs through March 13 at the Hand Workshop Art Center, 1812 W. Main St.
Opening events on Friday, Feb. 4, include a panel discussion from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Grace Street Theater and receptions from 6 to 8 p.m. at HWAC and at Reynolds Gallery, where Slovenian artist Ziga Kariz will create a room-sized installation in conjunction with the HWAC exhibit.