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Aquiles Adler's "9 Lives" is many things, but it is never weak or boring.

Into the Fun House

Before I tell you how worthwhile it is to go see "9 Lives" at Aquiles Adler Gallery, let me suggest you first call this number that is posted on the gallery door — 827-1353 — just in case the gallery is dark and unmanned. When Allison Andrews or someone else meets you to let you in, when the lights come on, the monitors are plugged in and the batteries start whirring, the exhibition awakens to another of its many lives. The nine artists the title refers to are: Andrews, Megumi Akiyoshi, SunTek Chung, Carolyn Henne, Brian Higbee, Jim Sadoski, Patrick Todd, Adrienne Turk and Max Yawney.

"9 Lives" is a fun house of perversity ... and I mean that in a nice way, as Groucho Marx used to say. Some of the art is emotionally subversive, some is profoundly sensual, some is melancholy and remote, some is clever as hell, and some is tackily titillating enough for the Spencer Gifts clientele. The moments spent with each sculpture or painting offer satisfying shifts to the distinctive taste of the piece, to its naughtiness, or its morality or humor. While a couple of works are made a bit too slapdash or offer some platitude that may not require much further incantation, the show is never weak or boring. The far-flung intensity — the thinking/feeling scope — that it elicits as you take it in is the mark of a really good use of gallery walls.

Todd's installations corrupt those nice white gallery walls either subtractively, as in "Bamboo and Gorillas," by carving into the smooth finish, or additively, as in "Stampede," by altering the surface to seemingly liquefy the plaster in concentric waves, a response to the vibrations of the sculpture that projects from it. Photographic at its core, it is an emphatically lit, mixed-media innuendo suggesting the omnipotent, omnipresent authority of the city of validation. Todd supplies the piece with a visual tinnitus using what seems to be a manipulated exhaust vent as the commanding frame for his small vista of the New York skyline. Flanking it are two orbs supported by and oozing onto clear plastic columns. They offer meditative views of a natural world beyond the urban din.

"Mary, Mary" by Chung, is a sublime pair of matching Madonnas cast in bronze. One Mary proclaims "Yes" in a biblical voice bubble, while the other contradicts her with "No." Chung's is an example of a conundrum that subtly postulates on religious revisionism without sneering. A funny, rich serving of double entendre, it is benevolent, agreeable for those who require some tractability regarding their beliefs, but delightfully serviceable to those who don't.

"Mary, Mary" is a fine contrast to Sadoski's "If All Else Fails Read The Instructions," which is also funny, but supercilious, and, along with his satirical non-handicap bathroom, "Do Not Touch," promotes a prankish meanness that solicits the viewer like a con. For laughing at a prank is no more innocent than originating it. "Dancing for the Man," Sadoski's video collaboration with Akiyoshi, is a rather more complex deceit and is better for it. Like a sorcerer, Sadoski humbles (or exalts) himself to a mere hand holding a baton. Akiyoshi is the frantic artist (creator) that he conducts. Filmed in reverse motion, she obediently removes from her own mural the obscuring whitewash from a paint can marked "Gallery Walls." Wearing tap shoes to make every reaching step she takes an awkward, desperate, noisy dance, she occasionally clops over to the camera for further instructions from the lens. It's another doublecross, though, because we, the viewers, are also the baton holders, so that everyone involved is in essence the other's handmaiden.

Voyeuristic subjugation is the subject of Andrew's documentary "Mummification d'O." It is an all-male-cast, made-for-TV, single installment of "The Story of O" filmed on the night of the opening, when it was an S & M happening, as well. In the gallery now remains the evidence: the video, a small wood bench, a discarded book, and the black-tape body cast that was cut from the subject and now lies like a shed skin or another life left behind; one of many more than nine.

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