Fiendish Plots

By Kent Wolgamott

November 10, 2015

 Installation shot of David Kramer's  Age Old Story  at Fiendish Plots

Installation shot of David Kramer's Age Old Story at Fiendish Plots

2130 Magnum Circle is an industrial building in far west Lincoln, tucked between the Burlington Railyard, U.S. Highway 77 and O Street. 

Or at least it was an industrial building before Charley Friedman and Nancy Friedemann moved in a couple years ago, transforming the space into a pair of large artists studios.

Since the end of 2013, however, the studios temporarily are transformed again -- into a gallery that’s been dubbed Fiendish Plots.

There, Friedman and Friedemann invite a mid-career artist to exhibit for a month, and in doing so have created Lincoln’s most vital space for contemporary art.

And it is a space that could likely only exist in a city like Lincoln, with a strong enough art scene to support the exhibitions and a low enough cost of living to allow the four-times-a-year shows to take over the studio space.

“We couldn’t have done this in New York because it’s impossible,” Friedemann told me when Fiendish Plots opened in 2013. “Studio spaces in New York are so tiny and anything bigger is unaffordable. One of the reasons we came here was to allow the work to grow in the way we always envisioned it.”

Friedman and Friedemann, who are married, moved to Lincoln (Friedman’s hometown) after living and working in New York, each a well-established artist with museum and gallery shows.

Those are the kind of artists the couple wanted to show at Fiendish Plots -- established, mid-career artists who are often overlooked in a contemporary art world focused on  “emerging” artists, most fresh out of school.

David Kramer is just that kind of artist. 

In October, Kramer showed “Age Old Story,” his 11-minute silent movies about a pair of artists, one a success, the other, not so much, a selection of his text-filled drawings and a large sculpture of a bar figurine leaning on a lamppost.

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Funny, provocative, rooted in art and pop culture history and smartly rendered, Kramer’s art is, to some measure, art about art or at least art about being artist. It’s also got enough bite to resonate more broadly with viewers and, importantly, entertain in some fashion.

The movie, which I called “something of a low budget masterpiece” in my Journal Star article on Kramer’s show, feels like it’s from the 1920s -- black and white with a tinkling piano score, brisk character movement and sets and costumes created by Kramer that look vintage.

It pays homage to Van Gogh and Gauguin, who appear to have been the models for the artists (Van Gogh, of course, the guy who doesn’t sell). But it also gives a nod to silent film masters like Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton and, to a lesser degree, Nebraska’s own Harold Lloyd.

But it’s got a full-on contemporary message about the artist’s life -- that success is often a matter of luck, patronage and critical support more than “talent” -- and is entertaining enough to watch multiple times.

Much of the same sensibility -- and use of text -- is found in Kramer’s drawings, which combine advertising images drawn from ‘70s magazines with words typed on an old Smith Corona typewriter by the dyslexic artist.

Many of the drawings require reading the text blocks to deliver their point -- nothing wrong with making a viewer slow down and work a little to get the art. But some connect instantly like this line: “I Would Like To Think Of Myself As Some Sort of Post-Pop Artist...But That Would Imply I Was Once Popular, And That Doesn’t Seem to Fit Right Either.”

 David Kramer

David Kramer

That’s good, funny stuff that really hit home with me. But having a sense of humor isn’t a Fiendish Plots requirement.

Rather, the gallery has shown work that is spiritual -- the flower mandala of Chrysanne Stathacos that was “destroyed” by members of Jewel Heart, the local Tibetan Buddhist community -- and a look at death, via a drawing of a cadaver by Joan Lindner. 

It’s also shown a striking video by German artist Gudrun Barenbrock, who prepared a new version of “punchcard music” for Fiendish Plots' initial exhibition.

Originally a two-channel piece for an electronics festival and projected inside a cathedral, “punchcard music” was “remixed” into a single channel work, edited to shorten the running time  and transferred from the European video system to the U.S version.

“This is the first time it has been in a small setting, which you can show anywhere,” she said then. “It was a good thing for me to set it up and try it here. Before it existed only in my head. Everything was fine. I loved finding it worked with one big screen and one small screen.”

She was also the first artist to take part in the other part of Fiendish Plots’ exhibitions. A short-term residency, often staying with Friedman, Friedemann and their daughter Nina in their central Lincoln home.

“I was never in the Midwest before,” Barenbrock said. “She said,’let’s do a show.’ I said ‘Why not? It’s an experiment.’ It fit together well….. The whole area here reminded me of a certain part of Germany. I could imagine why these people came 150 years ago and settled here. It looks a little like where they’re from.”

Fiendish Plots exhibitions don’t take place on a regular schedule. When Friedman and Friedemann find an artist and can arrange a show, there’s an opening and, generally, a month of viewing on weekends and by appointment.

The best way to know when a show is coming is to follow Fiendish Plots on Facebook or check out the listings and reviews in the Journal Star. I promise I won’t miss one of the exhibitions at Lincoln’s most interesting contemporary art space.