In my opinion, the mark of a good artist is the ability to turn the ugly or the offensive, or even the commonplace, into something greater. Look at Warhol or Duchamp, or even Pryor. Yes, I'm talking about Richard Pryor so pay attention.
Remember that standup act where he's wearing the red suit? It's called Live on the Sunset Strip, and it takes place right after a freebasing-related fire left him just short of crispy. The act is funny not only because it's Richard Pryor, but because he reclaims his story by spinning addiction and third-degree burns into a breed of flawed gold.
For similar reasons, artist Melanie Smith's fascination with Mexico City is interesting to me. Let's face it: Smith's city is not a place known for its aesthetic qualities. I think smog; I think overcrowded; I think dirty and dangerous. But Melanie Smith: Spiral City/Ciudad Espiral, opening today at the Laboratory of Arts and Ideas at Belmar, 404 South Upham Street in Lakewood, is a chance to explore the beauty of Mexico City through the mediums of painting, photography, video and installations.
According to Adam Lerner, founder and executive director of the Lab, Spiral City is about the artfulness of cities: "The grid of the city, the commercialism of a city, the planning, the visuals and the noise of a city is in itself something aesthetic and can be quite beautiful."
The exhibit starts with a nine-monitor video piece exploring Mexico City's garish fascination with aerobics classes, then continues on to a collection of work that includes paintings in various styles: Straight urban documentation shares space with fuzzy abstraction and a corridor piece of hanging, bawdy plastic and rubber goods reminiscent of a meat locker. The exhibit ends with very serene and beautiful aerial paintings of the city.
Admission is a suggested $3 donation. For more information, go to www.belmarlab.org.
Sept. 26-Dec. 30, 2007