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Review: Sparkling, dry, with hints of newsprint - Vino serves up Gaucha Berlin and Langley

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, Nov. 2, 2012 - Even teetotalers should plan a visit to Vino to see the work hanging on the walls. The married artists known as Gaucha Berlin and Langley, along with their enchanting many-layered mixed media canvases and sculptural work, can usually be found along Cherokee. Their current show at Vino brings some of that good Cherokee Street creative impulse to the comparatively established Central West End art scene.

This show of intelligently constructed print and paint collage is winsome and wily. The viewer must look long and hard to find all of the hidden storylines embedded in newsprint and, sometimes, shrouded behind surface paint. First glances reveal only the dominant graphic image painted against a patterned comic strip background. Closer inspection reveals loaded statements constructed out of clever picture and word play.

The work builds on a rich history of artists’ use of photo and word montage to create multifaceted visual narratives. It is a bit reminiscent of the technique that was used with great success by artists within the Dada movement.

The largest and arguably most striking work within the group, We the People, depicts playing children and their puppy. Intricate overlays of enigmatic messages make up neat composite pictures, so that from 10 steps back you see a romping scene of childhood. The composition oozes 1950s naivety that the modern viewer is trained to link with political irony. Slightly wilted newspapers are cut strategically so the coat of the faithful puppy reveals a cryptic commentary.

Cut into the shape of picture elements - dress, shoes, tree branch, leaves - yellowed newspaper advertisements come across as omens and social observation. Doleful words pasted over buoyant 20th century cartoon fantasy combine to provide a form of history covering much of the last century. Nostalgic scenes blend with Cold War themes when the forms are drawn from Mallinckrodt, Standard Oil and promotional military advertisements.

Political assertions born out of combined media will jump out at you. In Open and Shut Case, the artists have taken potent cultural characters, some well known by all ages like Snow White, and dressed them in poignant messages. The amalgam of carefully chosen and missing words spell out subtexts and reshape visual narratives. This is true for the sculptural pieces as well as for the works on canvas.

The artworks are delightful and they are worth seeing more than once. I’d go so far as to say the looking is addictive. Luckily, Vino plans to hold on to them for a while, because like a fine wine, these canvases and sculptures need decanting. Gaucha Berlin and Langley reveal, through their work, a history that requires re-evaluation. And, like a perfectly balanced bottle of Tuscan Bordeaux, our responses to the subjects depicted are likely to continue to mature and develop depth with time.

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