Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Favorite Sculpture 2006: Petah Coyne, Mindy Shapero, Andrea Cohen

David Waddell

Funny, Not Funny
Part I- Crafted and Crafted Clunk, A Look at Coyne, Shapero, and Cohen

...instead of ranting, here are my raves for my favorite sculpture of 2006. They all made me laugh, smile and left me in awe and wonderment. Some resonated longer, as they took a turn from funny to not funny. Often, what is perceived to be light-hearted has a darker side. That is their power.

The artists and exhibitions include Greg Smith at Susan Inglett, Petah Coyne at Albright-Knox Art Gallery and, The Uncertainty of Objects at the Hirshhorn. I am particularly drawn to the work of Andrea Cohen and Mindy Shapero. Shapero simultaneously showed at CRG Gallery in New York.

Petah Coyne

I saw Petah Coyne at Buffalo’s Albright-Knox this summer, taking the trip twice. Each time, I walked through on my own and then, with an audio guide. Coyne discussed her work in a clear, articulate manner. Her soothing voice enriched my experience.

MIT Peacocks-Untitled #820 captures the magic. Dripping in white wax, time is standing still. As Coyne points out, this chandelier will never actually be stagnant. This pendulum will shift ever so slightly, even if we cannot catch it. My love for this piece could be my projected literary attachment. I have recollections of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I am transported into a snowy forest where flying birds are frozen. MIT Peacocks hangs over my head, acting as a canopy. The chicken wire, the armature, is within eyesight as one stands underneath the work. Suddenly, you become aware of the scale of this massive, welded iron piece that could possibly fall on you. It looks like a giant, white chocolate-covered pretzel that could kill. The silence of the space becomes magnified, you can hear your breathing, and maybe, just maybe, you see the slight swaying.

Untitled #927 (BZ-CD-Put-Put) was another work that tugged at my heart. Coyne created a family tree out of horsehair provided by Ann Hamilton. The braided hair is frazzled at the ends. Flattened and attached to the wall, the dark hair is in flight while eloquently resembling roots. The piece has a parenthesized title that refers to Coyne’s siblings. Another reference to literature, this work could have been out of a John Irving novel such as Hotel New Hampshire or Salinger’s Franny and Zoe. BZ-CD-Put-Put is about the untimely death of her brother. It is a sad, remembrance of childhood and having to carry on as an adult and as a creative entity.

Wonder and awe comes from Coyne’s high craft. The level of fine craft elevates silk flowers, taxidermied birds, feathers, hair and wax. Anyone can use absurd, clichéd materials but it takes someone like Coyne to catch you off guard and leave you breathless.

In Daphane, she catches the viewer off guard. The rose composed figure can be read as a stump or a woman in a dress. An unexpected, tiny face glares into the corner. People shriek when they discover this surprise. Coyne is a knowledgable, well-read artist. She intertwines mythology, world history with autobiography to create experiences.

Andrea Cohen and Mindy Shapero

I appreciate Andrea Cohen. More precisely, I love Andrea Cohen. Not only is she clever with her in-depth investigation and usage of materials, she acknowledges those who dismiss her work.

When I saw this work, I was jealous and amazed. I had all of the same materials in my studio. In my own practice, I recycle materials until it ‘works.’ I had yet to find my answer and then I witnessed the perfect solution for Floam, pool toys, rafts, twigs, wallpaper, and Great Stuff. I wish I was Andrea Cohen. She has taught me to let things sit, and evolve. Fiddling and manipulating objects is not a waste of time when sculpture this poetic, playful and beautiful can form.

Painting justifies itself through painting. So sure, Cohen makes references to Brice Marden, Chinese scrolls, landscape painting and Jonathan Lasker. But she also reminds me that I don’t have to gouge my eyes out with a paintbrush to make something noteworthy.

Far from revolutionary but still highly praiseworthy, Anne Ellegood curates a spectacular exhibition that allows this conservative town dip their feet and test the waters of contemporary sculpture. This is the state of sculpture.

There is a clunky, playful edge to art today. It is evident in the Vitamin P which emphasizes trends. And while, I am undecided if it is suitable for painting, I think CLUNKY is golden for sculpture. Let objects be objects, either elevate them or pronounce how pathetic they are.

Mindy Shapero is crafted clunk. Unlike most of the sculpture in the Uncertainty of Objects, Shapero’s work are creatures with souls. They are sad, pathetic animals, made of paint chips and cardstock. I empathize with these rigid furballs. One resembles an emu. My favorite work is a burnt out rainbow. It is hilariously sad.

More on Mindy, Greg Smith in Part II

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