ELEGIES, Millicent Young
Columbia-Greene Community College (Hudson, New York)
March 12 - TBD
By JONATHAN GOODMAN, April 2020
Veteran artist Millicent Young has lived in a number of places—including decades in rural Virginia, and now upstate New York in High Falls--as she has pursued a highly creative, highly autonomous career. Her wall works, an amalgam of resonant materials nearly Shaker-like in their austerity and beauty, owe their spiritual reach to the horsehair and muted metal she makes use of. In this excellent show, Young develops relations between wall pieces extending across the gallery’s open middle space. The artworks conduct a conversation among themselves, to the point where they seem to need no support from the audience; they are self-sufficient in the extreme. Their complexity enables them to evade the problem of becoming sculptural relics and tonal elegies in favor of a physical and metaphorical darkness that exists before the moment of awareness, thus addressing the prospect of life, rather than after the moment of death.
In the show, the eleven works are hung on the walls--setting up a discussion that moves across the center of the gallery. Three works are of particular interest: Before There Were Waves, In the Absence of Fear, and To Enter Into What Is There (all made this year). In the first sculpture, we regard an inset with a nod to the Ariadne myth: a piece of thread falling downward from a rough surface--resulting from iron oxide covering a plaster block, which is inserted into a niche framed by steel, with two rounded nail heads adorning the upper register. Nearly biblical if also abstract, this work suggests some sort of ancient conundrum--the string enters into space from within a darkness whose meaning we can only intuit. (We remember that in Genesis, darkness preceded light, not symbolizing the ending of life--but rather, its start.) Then the sculpture named In the Absence of Fear dramatizes our understanding of something breaking open, under extraordinary pressure: a piece of brown fur barely escaping the cracks of four iron-oxide panels, surrounded by a steel, variegated frame. The primal emotions associated with these works are accentuated by their titles’ drama, meant to install within the viewer an abstract imagistic power.
In To Enter Into What Is There, we come across a third parallel work, in which a piece of string, penetrating mysteriously, again, the rough surface, duplicating the other two sculptures, drifts downward and slowly curls a few inches beneath the niche of the tablet it originates from. As with the other two works of art, there is a mottled steel mount surrounding it; the surface evokes pooling water. Although the entire show is called “Elegies,” in conversation Young has emphasized that these works are not memorials. Instead, they are introductions to the state of being that immediately precedes existence. So they are not endpoints but beginnings. Usually we conceive of darkness as something final, but in these enigmatic works, they are introductions to the future. Thus Young mines the dichotomy between darkness and light to create art abstract and myth-like, attaining significant meaning. WM
Jonathan Goodman is a writer in New York who has written for Artcritical, Artery and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications.
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