Reader review: Growing up with Oliveto, from LEGOs to grunge

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February 8th, 2012

Omaha, NE – Tony Oliveto: Recent Works shows the Omaha-based artist’s refreshing sense of play in his approach to minimalism and expressionism. The exhibit opens Thursday at Hilmer Art Gallery in Omaha. The Reader’s Sally Deskins has this review.

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Tony Oliveto’s neon geometric “Happy Boxes” aren’t aesthetically beautiful. They aren’t philosophically conducive on face value, either. In minimalist fashion, the wooden boxes are stripped of nonessential variety, displaying only solid-colored squares and rectangles.

A piece in Tony Oliveto's "Happy Boxes" series.

In post-minimalist manner, Oliveto exhibits modern diligence with seemingly flawless color and compositional balance, playing to the irony of the movement.

This play, though, does bring a certain sentimentality to the clearly happy pieces. The bright neon hues and forms reminiscent of LEGOs, boom boxes and retro video games instantly gave me a feeling of joy gleamed from my childhood in the 1980s (Oliveto, to note, is my age).

The boxes hang on the Hilmer Art Gallery’s north wall. And as you turn around, the adolescent gleeful work alters to dark expressive paintings, almost evolving into the grungy 1990s.

"Revenant" by Tony Oliveto.

Two black paintings, “Revenant” with triangles and “Accession,” with hearts, angrily repeat the shapes throughout the canvases. Next to, a series of four animated pieces follow, titled “Spectre,” where Oliveto seemed to somewhat let go of control over materials. Black and white paint appears left poured onto the canvas. Still, hard-edged solid colored- stripes fade out into the background, his eye for nomenclature still present.

In “Portals,” three pieces on the South wall, this dichotomy of extreme composition versus organic expression is realized with the geometric layering of painted screens. It is frustrating, trying to appreciate its appearance while the reflection movement dizzies you, but perhaps that is his tease.

His 3d “Pods” line the center of the gallery, large wooden-painted sculptures with tiny shapes emerging at each inch of the surface. They represent his playfulness too, combined with continuous perfectionism to get that arrangement just right.

Oliveto said the pods are meant to be hanging from the ceiling for viewers to experience the pieces spinning, but the Hilmer’s ceiling couldn’t hold them. So as it is, we must spin around and create our own physical understanding.

“Table Lamp 3” is notably out of place, though the brass and acrylic painted masonite item does show his practical side.

In all, Oliveto’s Recent Works won’t blow you away with classical splendor or conceptual grandeur. But it might, however, remind you that art can amuse you and frustrate you with its trying combination of simplicity and vastness, just like growing up.

You can play around at Tony Oliveto: Recent Works at Hilmer Art Gallery, 7000 Mercy Road on the College of Saint Mary Campus, through February 24. Oliveto will be present at the gallery reception. Thursday, February 9, from 5-7p.m.

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