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Newsday, Wednesday, June 10th, 1998
Spud Barn Yields An Art Harvest
Peter Goodman/ page B3

Four weeks ago Avery Young's barn was 25 feet deep in potatoes and mud. Now it's been power-washed clean right down to the ventilation trenches, and the produce inside includes a 54-foot-long display of blue thread; a skiff hanging upside down with the neck of a swan carved in cedar, spilling down to the cement floor and a huge painting of a man in a dunce cap labeled ³Self Portrait."

This is STARCH, a presentation by some New York-based artists who discovered that an Aquebogue potato barn that was a great place to show their stuff. It opened over Memorial Day weekend in the barn down a long dirt driveway behind Young's farmhouse on Route 25, and the reaction was so good they've decided to keep it going through this weekend and Saturday, June 20. (The title, STARCH, may refer to the tubers that once occupied the space; at least, that's what the artists say.)

"We'd been looking for a place to show for a year," explained Julie Shafer, 31, formerly of Scituate, Mass., whose "Still Untitled Drawing in Blue Thread," despite its extreme fragility, dominates the center of the great structure. "We wanted to do something on Long Island, out here, because all of us had spent some time here at different times."

Two of the eight exhibitors, most of who got to know each other wile studying at the University of New Mexico, did more than spend time on the North Fork. They grew up here.

When Thomas Muchowski, 29, played football for Riverhead High School, it never occurred to him that one day he would be a painter exhibiting on his friend's family's farm. He's a long, quiet, slow-talking fellow whose transformed face, labeled "Dunce" over and over, is the prominent feature of "Self Portrait" (which is not for sale).

Muchowski was a little nervous about showing right next door to his hometown of Jamesport. In New York City and New Mexico, his work was viewed by a community of friends and colleagues. "Here you expose yourself, at home," Muchowski said.

Michael Combs, 27, is doing more than exposing his own inner life - his work is now commentary on the Long Island lives of his family going back decades. Born in Huntington and raised in Peconic, Combs is descended form a long line of baymen and hunters. He's turned to carving for his own work, first duck decoys and now more grandiose objects.

His startling "Spent Cases" makes use of a Great South Bay "gunning skiff" built by his great grandfather, suspended from the ceiling using block and tackle owned by his grandfather. The limp-necked swan hanging from the boat's cockpit is Combs' own creation, and the four shotgun shell casings scattered about its head make the final bleak comment.

The barn, cool, beige and full of the damp smell of earth, seems an odd place for sculpture and painting. Its size, the great steel beams that stretch from wall to wall, the bits of exposed installation high up, the potato or two still visible atop wooden panels, even the twittering swallows that dart across the open space - they all demand attention of their own.

But these artists enjoyed the challenge of all that room. Combs made several of his sculptures even longer because he could. Kanji Kondo, another exhibitor, had long been hoping to create his "Mechanism for the Creation of Equality (For the Broken-Spirited Man)," and jumped at the chance to build it for the barn, according to Shafer.

Kondo's work has two parts: a peak-roofed steel antechamber and a big, hollow cube which a viewer can walk inside. He trucked the steel shed from Albuquerque, and built the wooden section in Aquebogue. When the show is over, he's just going to break the piece down. Shafer is going to roll her thread up into a big ball - if she ever shows it again, it will be a different work. Although some of the pieces are for sale, many of them were just done for the artists' satisfaction.

The exhibition is free, but any donations, and money spent on a raffle, will be given to a group called Visual AIDS, which provides support services for artists who have HIV.

Michael Combs  |  New York, NY  |
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