Sculpture Now 2019, currently on view at the Brentwood Arts Exchange, celebrates formalism and cheekiness with equal aplomb. The exhibition, juried by Brentwood Arts Exchange’s Managing Director Spencer Dormitzer, brings together 28 artists from the Washington Sculptors Group. The 32 works on display range from formal studies of the artists’ chosen materials to sometimes dada-esque mashups seemingly designed to amuse the eye. The exhibition was judged blindly and, according to Dormitzer, there was no preconceived theme. Rather, he approached the curatorial process with the aim of highlighting the contemporary thought processes the artists used when composing their works. As a result, while the pieces differ significantly in appearance, technique and components used, they all embrace their creator’s desire to allow the work’s meaning to germinate within materials themselves.
The exhibition dwells largely on nonfigurative details, overt bodily characteristics or references that are few and far between. While one work on view displays a pair of human faces and another has ‘tiny hands’ (its loaded metaphor intended), the main body of work considers more formal aspects of sculpture’s attributes, such as the form and shape of materials or the morphing of a two-dimensional line within three-dimensional space. The opposing qualities of solid form versus empty space are also toyed with throughout the show, with several works forcing our eye to consider how we perceive notions of being outside the object looking in versus within the object looking out. As a result the exhibition takes on distinctly architectural tones, with individual components of each sculpture building like blocks upon one another. The highlights of the exhibition weave the various threads of architecture, (non)representation and narrative to reach a harmonious conclusion.
Dormitzer singles out Even Reed’s Myth Maker for particular praise, awarding Reed with the Tom Rooney Award. Named for one of the original founders of the Washington Sculptors Group, the award is akin to a ‘best in show’ designation and comes with a cash prize for the artist. The accolade is certainly deserved! Though Reed’s piece is resolutely architectural in nature, it also instills a figurative-based narrative through skillful manipulation of mass and void. Constructed entirely of wood, the outer edges of the work reference the nave of a cathedral. Integral to this architectural form are curved slats that hug close to the rigid structure and create a voluminous void within the center of the work suggestive of the human torso. Empty and mysterious, the void attempts to make visible that which cannot be seen. Though ensconced in a cross-invoking structure, the ghostly apparition is more spiritual than overtly religious. This notion is further emphasized by the paint peeling away from the outer-facing surfaces of the vertical slats as well as those that run horizontally at the lower edge of the piece. Suggesting layers sloughing off through the eroding of time, Reed seems to posit that mythology surrounding our existence cannot be ascertained by religious dictates alone.
While Ruth Lozner’s sweep of time may not be quite as epic as Reed’s, she uses similar visual ploys to suggest a fascination with history. The title of her piece, The Curiosity of Cabinets, directly references the historical phenomenon of cabinets of curiosities which displayed the idiosyncratic collections of their owners. Here Lozner playfully upends the gravitas of those original collections by deconstructing the cabinet into a series of interlocking forms. In challenging the solidity of the cabinet through fanciful means, she also calls into question the rigidity to which we ascribe cultural meanings to the objects inside. Joe Corcoran also plays with our sense of time in Pretending, presenting seemingly organic forms that ooze primordial energy. Though his chosen materials are modern in nature – fused glass and neon tubes – the resulting anthropomorphic forms appear as if rescued from the sea floor, their shapes formed over the millennia. That such inorganic matter could be manipulated to imply an organism is a testament to the skill of the artist. Also of note in this regard is the handiwork of Elizabeth Vorlicek, whose In Memorial to Cursive Too seemingly transforms fragile porcelain into thin sheets of paper in an ode to a form of writing that exists for some of us only in memory.
Less concerned with historical inferences or transformational themes, several artists explore the ability for inanimate forms to transmit a visual sense of unbridled kinetic energy. While diminutive in size relative to other works in the show, Jin Lee’s Boxed In explodes out with a larger-than-life sense of moving force. Reminiscent of a Pandora’s box, Lee aligns the variously-shaped wooden rods to present series of forms determined to explode forth from their confines. Tipping Point/Hanging by a Thread by Joan Mayfield exudes a similar energy that is kept more tightly in check. Bound by delicate thread, the piece literally hangs on the precipice between maintaining its substantive form and tumbling into messy chaos. Who knows which way these kinetic forces will go? If Joel D’Orazio’s By the Horns is any indication, visual chaos will reign supreme in the end.
While the majority of the works concern themselves chiefly with investigating more formal aspects of sculpture, a few purposefully use their materials to address social issues of the day. Perhaps it is because they read so literally in comparison with their more formal brethren, for the most part these works do not inspire the imagination to the same degree. Louisa Neill’s Table Talk (Separated/Divided) uses a hinged table to drive home the point about our political divide but the visual impact is so literal its intended emotional punch quickly fades. Where Neill’s works suffers from its abruptness, Judith Pratt’s Point of Origin III comes off as too amorphous to uphold its central message. While her use of color is visually arresting, the diffuse components, including audience participation, are too scattershot to underscore her contention that migration is a universal human condition. Fabiola Alvarez Yurcisin’s Orange Cage – Immigrant Loops is more successful in visually encapsulating the immigrant experience, but would perhaps be even more poetic without the blunt text located inside the work.
Harry Mayer’s Smile n’ Nodd Shake n’ Wave is the anomaly in this sub-genre of political art in that it too immediately and forcefully imparts a message, yet the visual aspects of the work continues to reverberate in the mind even after the initial, mental assault. The wall text identifies three composite materials as follows: concrete, PVC and tiny hands. The construction of the work is similarly precise, with plastic doll hands inserted into the ends of PVC pipe tucked into concrete blocks painted orange. It is gimmicky and in some ways just as abrupt as Neill’s table across the gallery. I would have preferred to see the materials more transformed from their hardware store origins, though Dormitzer explains that the artist’s intent is to keep the materials as-is. Yet on walking around the work, I cannot help but notice those tiny hands evince a loaded sieg heil salute, while the row of PVC pipes seemingly bends and twists opportunistically with the direction of the political wind. Say what you will of his politics, those most basic of building materials powerfully narrate a story without the single whisper of a name.
Scultpure Now 2019 runs through March 9, 2019 at the Brentwood Arts Exchange. For more information, visit their website here.
Interview with Spenser Dormitzer, February 4, 2019.