At Shulamit Nazarian in Venice, “Phantom Limb” packs a punch — or delivers a swift kick — that’s all the more potent because you don’t see it coming. The five-artist free-for-all is the best group exhibition of the summer, maybe the year. Its parts don’t add up to wholes as much as they stir up undercurrents of discontent.
Good old-fashioned collage undergirds the most potent works, all of which are paintings. The only ones made from cut-and-pasted fragments are Trenton Doyle Hancock’s two densely layered paintings. Both include lattice-like swaths of canvas, carefully placed bottle caps and all kinds of surprises — some fun, others unsettling.
In terms of materials, the works by Wendell Gladstone, Scott Anderson and Maja Ruznic are not collages. But they break up space like the most accomplished collages. That gives them a mongrel quality, which goes hand in hand with their wholehearted embrace of visual malfeasance.
The pretty colors, crisp contours and squeaky-clean surfaces of Gladstone’s dystopian icons intensify their infectious unease. Anderson’s three oils on canvas look like they’ve gone to hell in a handbasket and have come back to take us along on their next trip.
Ruznic’s simmering stews of dissolute figures and malformed bodies likewise look as if they’re going in two directions at once — coalescing into malignant lumps and dissolving into indigestible goo.
May Wilson’s three sculptures lack the repulsive attractions of the other works. They would do well in another setting, away from the dystopian undertow of the paintings in “Phantom Limb,” which leave no room for the niceties of resolved compositions.