"Three for Society"

Mary Hellman, Sunset at Makapu

Mary Hellman, Sunset at Makapu Photo: Courtesy of 303 Gallery

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>4/5

A quaint image graces this show’s press release: a drawing by Henry David Thoreau’s sister of his cabin dwarfed by the surrounding forest. It also appeared on the cover of the first edition of Walden—Thoreau’s best-known collection of writings and 303 director Mari Spirito’s inspiration for this discerning group show. The title cops Thoreau’s quotable line, “I had three chairs in my house: one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” But the meat of the show really derives from the subsequent paragraphs, in which the transcendentalist describes how conversing with visitors in his intimate cabin differed from a talk in the great outdoors.

It follows, then, that the 11 participating artists meditate on the psychic qualities of interior and/or exterior space. The most straightforward is Rebecca E. Chamberlain’s Interior Arrangement Screen, four large ink drawings of unpeopled interiors. Cyan and muted magenta lend the chic showplaces a beautifully elegiac air. More obscure is David Thorpe’s My Besieged Self Is My Glory!, a goofy text piece that expresses some private soul-searching in the public form of a broadside written in flowery 19th-century-style prose. Mary Heilmann demonstrates how a clichéd Hawaiian sunset can turn elegant and pulsating in the right hands.

Less well-considered works—Tom Gidley’s lackluster monochromes and Anne Chu’s unfinished-looking foam “castle”—create some uneven moments. But most of the work here inspires the kind of blissed-out contemplation that Thoreau reveled in. It’s a graceful summer show—not a day at the beach, but rather a good conversation enjoyed during a hike in the woods.

303 Gallery, through Jul 27 (see Chelsea)