If the ten artists of the fascinating group exhibit Side by Side, currently on view at
    MOCA, have anything at all in common it might be their shared interest in tensions
    between symbol and reality in the contemporary world. But audiences need to dig a
    little for that. MOCA Associate Curator Ana Vejzovic Sharp has deliberately selected
    Northeast Ohio area artists who are, nevertheless, all over the map in every sense
    of the phrase. The challenge, and the reward, of this exhibit is to find shared
    sensibilities across a very broad spectrum of materials, ideas, and interests.

    Ranging from tiny, visually delicious and somewhat retro abstract paintings by Eric
    Neff, to Michell Droll’s large, robustly baroque (or chaotic) painting/sculpture titled
    Site Bite constructed of chunks of plastic, dried paint, Styrofoam and other leftovers,
    the show careens wildly from manner to manner. There’s the chunky, oversized
    Flintstone-like bench, “hewn” from white plastic by Robert Moskovitz, and Donald
    Judd-ish looking serial wall sculptures by Susan Umbenhour – which, however,  turn
    out to be deeply humanist meditations on point of view and physical
    accommodation. Then there are Neil McDonald’s pixel-ated oil paintings, which in
    their imitation of digital break-down seem like a quivering, hallucinogenic update of
    the late 19th century cloissonism of Bernard and other synthetists. Or at yet another
    end of the spectrum, Gianna Commito renders striped intersecting planes, twirling in
    an artificial, mixed media dimension where a decorative incarnation of light travels at
    the speed of…paint.

    In fact, the overarching theme at Side by Side might be best described as, “what you
    see isn’t exactly what you get.” In keeping with such an uncertainty principle
    photographer Barry Underwood presents richly colored Chromogenic prints that
    reinvent landscapes and the genre of “figures in a landscape” as luminous reveries.
    His 2006 works Little Blue Tree and Smoke, for instance, focus respectively on a
    glowing blue sapling and a mysterious, ground-hugging, aura-like patch of vapor,
    against twilit forest backdrops. It’s hard to figure out what exactly is going on in
    these pictures, but they seem charged with energies generated by some friction
    between the primordial, natural world and trickster-like digressions into a modern
    dream time.

    Dream-like also are Thomas Frontini’s inscrutable fantasies, set in a gentle, candy-
    colored realm which just might be our own world, ages after some environmental
    catastrophe. Resembling Roman frescos to some extent, Frontini’s beautifully
    executed oils also reference folk art, tempered with fey currents of magic realism.
    The visual logic of these works is unhooked from any rational narrative.

    [Angle Magazine Issue 31]
Low Ceiling, Eric Neff
oil on canvas
Side by Side @ MOCA
                          douglas max utter