of rope and chain her bones are made
May 1 through July 31, 2021
By PETER FRANK, June 2021
The success of a thematic group show lies not so much in the persuasiveness of its theme as in the active relationship of that theme to the exhibition’s contents. A show like “of ropes and chain her bones are made” argues for its art, and it’s the art itself that supports the “message.” Such a show seems an integral entirety not because the artworks add up, but because their shared sensibility escapes the rhetorical for the poetical. The message is at once presumed and discovered, revealed to us in the dots the curator connects and then revelatory all over again in the nature of each dot. There is, finally, no difference between the whole and the sum of its parts; the pleasure and the wisdom of “of ropes and chain” lies in the way it keeps our focus oscillating gently between what each artwork means – in this context and otherwise – and what they mean in the aggregate.
Every one of the objects comprising “of rope and chain” is a powerful presence. Some explain themselves more readily than others, but none is so hermetic as to resist the common rubric under which curator/gallerist Craig Krull has gathered them. In their ruggedness and tenderness they all evince the presence of the human hand and the sensuality of natural (or natural-seeming) material. They reify the vulnerability of the human body and durability of the human spirit – or vice versa, human vanity and human power. But the reactive nature of these media, clay to fiber to resin to thread, also ties our species to the natural world and its facture, that is, its physicality and its obeisance to physics. There’s no breaking the law of gravity, much less that of mortality. Some of the artists, such as Claudia Parducci and Diane Silver, allow nature to illustrate itself by letting materials warp and sag. Others, like Levialle Campbell and Christy Matson, interact with their substances more decorously, relying on surface and symmetry to connect to nature while attempting to transcend it. Campbell, Matson, Blue McRight, Brittany Mojo, and Taylor Kibby all reinterpret traditional craft forms to bring forward the centrality of nature in patterns of human history. Sydney Croskery and Pamela Smith Hudson contribute paintings to “of ropes and chain”, but in their emphatic yet subtle gestures and elusive hues these abstract panels maintain the show’s overall sense of lyric viscerality. Finally, the works in “of ropes and chain her bones are made” insist on a thingness that at once refers back to itself and conjures the pathos of natural process, human and otherwise.
All the artists in “of ropes and chain” are women. Does that make the show a “feminist statement”? How could it be? It has been conceived and organized by a man. If the show’s theme is regarded as a statement about aesthetic rather than social experience, it need not be regarded as a “woman’s show” but as a show of nine artists who, for once, happen not to be men. The artists and their works speak individually for feminine consciousness where the curator cannot. The objects here and the materials used to fabricate them can be contextualized – not least by their makers – as particular to a woman’s experience, but the show is careful to provide that experience through the art, that is, through the artists’ voices rather than the curator’s. The superbly balanced installation does not make such connections, at least overtly, but the relative intimacy of the space allows us to do the connecting on our own. We share the dot-connecting with the curator.
That said, this work can be considered a recrudescence of American post-minimalism, re-examining and re-stating not just artistic concerns but the social urgencies – environmental degradation, climate change, self-realization, equal rights and access, sexual liberation, personal health and well-being and, yes, feminism – that have preoccupied this country for the last half century. “of ropes and chain” does not make a political or social statement, but everything in it can be said to, certainly in the historic stylistic positions evinced. There is a newfound emphasis on craft and handiwork, but it’s the emphasis that’s new: post-minimalism was no less labor-intensive in its original avatar. This neo-post-minimalist work seems to have less to prove, but that may be simply because its eccentricity and self-assertion are no longer so radical and its position need not be defensive. Self-declared feminists or not, women sculptors and painters of the late 1960s and ‘70s were tasked de facto with carving out a space in the discourse for their gender and their aesthetic preferences. “of ropes and chain her bones were made” and its artists occupy that space boldly and comfortably. WM
PETER FRANK is an art critic, curator, and editor based in Los Angeles, where he serves as Associate Editor of Fabrik Magazine. He began his career in his native New York, where he wrote for The Village Voice and The SoHo Weekly News and organized exhibitions for the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Alternative Museum. He is former Senior Curator at the Riverside (CA) Art Museum and former editor of Visions Art Quarterly and THEmagazine Los Angeles, and was art critic for LA Weekly and Angeleno Magazine. He has worked curatorially for Documenta, the Venice Biennale, and many other national and international venues. (Photo: Eric Minh Swenson)
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