Review of "Over + Over," Katonah Museum of Art in
Katonah, New York, Oct 2- Dec. 31, 2005
New York Times
Something Out of Nothing"
If you blinked, you might have missed it. A brief report in the New York Times on Oct. 20 on Eastman Kodak's quarterly results included the fact that digital-imaging sales at the company topped film-based photography sales for the first time in its history. The world of images has gone digital.
Perhaps not entirely, you may conclude, visiting "Over + Over: Passion for Process" at the Katonah Museum of Art here. Traveling from the Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, the exhibition surveys the billowing number of young, hipster artists who use manual skills and traditional handicraft processes to make art.
Admittedly, these don't seem like radical propositions. But in a world where digital imaging dominates visual culture, there is something clandestine about the gesture. Artists, surrounded by prefabricated images, have returned to making things by hand. This includes things like high-level weaving, woodworking, glass, and ceramics.
Of course, artists have never really stopped making objects and images by hand. It is just that, for decades, art world mandarins proclaimed that art was about ideas, and thus defined in part in opposition to craft.
Thankfully this evil binary has gone bust and artists are again free to make works that are both well made and meaningful. "Over + Over" largely delivers on this promise. The intense attention to detail and the dedication of manual labor that each artist has applied to these works are impressive. "Try asking a 4-year old to do this?" Liza Lou's realistic-looking six-pack of Budweiser made from thousands of tiny colored beads seems to demand of you.
Equally crafty and clever is Devorah Sperber's "Lie Like A Rug," (2000-2001), a trompe l'oeil Oriental rug made from more than 18,000 Letraset marker caps fixed into place with 20 pounds of industrial adhesive. Textile-like waves and folds in the marker caps give it the appearance of a genuine rug when viewed through a convex mirror.
Ms. Sperber spent more than 500 hours creating "Lie Like A Rug," the exhibition catalogue tells us. This selflessly passionate spirit of labor defines many pieces here, most obviously Lisa Hoke's "Gravity of Color" (2005), an ultracolorful wall installation of moiré than 5,000 plastic cups created at the museum over a period of two weeks.
But does it mean anything? Despite being pleasant to look at and insouciantly masterful, the accumulation of large quantities of banal objects, like cups, or marker caps, doesn't necessarily make for interesting and meaningful art. Some transformation is necessary, along with intellectual conviction.
Ms. Sperber's imitation Oriental rug passes this test, I think, because she clearly makes something thoughtful from, well, nothing. Ms. Hoke's cup installation is probably less innovative, but nonetheless manages to evoke for viewers a troubling and memorable image of psychic disintegration. Looking at it, I constantly felt exasperated.
There is also an honesty of procedure to these works and other here, which I find attractive. You get to see what the artist has done and how, then marvel at the skill and patience required to pull it off. Jennifer Maestre, say, meshes hundreds of pointy pencil tips into threatening sculptures, which are also exotic in their own way.
Tom Friedman's magically rambling pile of spaghetti is also worth mentioning in this context, as well as Rachel Perry Welty's installation composed of thousands of twist ties collected from friends and family and strung together to create a whopping2,600-foot-long dusty-colored ribbon that variously resembles both strips of flesh and fabric.
Enchanting as these works are, I can't help thinking that deep down, artists who fetishize the ritualized process of artistic production have nothing to say. This is not the sticky art-craft division rearing its head again, because the work in "Over + Over" is clearly different from tattered doilies or decoupage plaques. Rather, it si more about acknowledging the twin elements of craft and process as just two ingredients in what makes a successful artwork.
"Over + Over: Passion for Process," Katonah Museum of Art, Route 22 at Jay Street, Katonah, through Dec. 31. Information (914) 232-9555 or katonahmuseum.org.