Review of "Quartered, Flipped, & Rotated"
at the Montclair Art Museum
The New York Times
"First Quartered, Then Drawn," February 13, 2005
by Benjamin Genocchio
Timothy Ivy for The New York Times
At the Montclair Art Museu, Devorah Sperber has taken Hopper's "Coast Guard Station," one of the museum's signature works, and manipulated it into a very modern piece.

Devorah Sperber's painting-like assemblages possess the rare distinction of having almost nothing to do with painting. That's because this New York-based artist uses super detailed, computer-based, color-charted printouts of paintings to create nifty, pixilated, Chuck-Close-like sculptures.

Indulging a nagging urge for fidgety detail, Ms. Sperber's art is a remarkable effort of craft. Among her more celebrated assemblages is a chenille pipe-cleaner, shag rug replica of Jackson Pollock's "Autumn Rhythm," consisting of 165,000 stems placed by hand, one by one, into foam board. Other assemblages mimic paintings by Dali and Holbein.

Her latest offering, at the Montclair Art Museum, is a tangy site-specific installation of five chenille pipe-cleaner variations on one of the museum's signature works, Hopper's "Coast Guard Station." Despite being unflatteringly installed in a stairwell, this is a beautiful and ingenious installation.

It is also one of her first in the genre. Although not realized until now, this installation, first proposed in early 2002, was the catalyst for the artist's series of painting-sculptures based on other artworks. It's thus a seminal work for Ms. Sperber, even if it lacks the refinement of some of her later chenille pieces.

Ms. Sperber is not the only artist remaking famous images in oddball materials. Vik Muniz, a Brazilian, has spent the past decade doing sketchy renditions of famous photographs using diamonds, chocolate syrup and spaghetti. Ms. Sperber is his artistic heir. Of course, both these artists point back to the work of appropriation artists of the 1980's and 1990's and, before them, to a whole generation of Pop Art pioneers who recycled mass-media images. That's fine, so long as you develop your own identity and voice. Happily, Ms. Sperber has found both.

The current installation bears this out. Using a computer, Ms. Sperber took a digital image of the Hopper painting and quartered it. To form new compositions, she flipped and rotated each piece to make reflection-like images that bear little relation to the original. The fifth image is a replica of the original Hopper composition.

Hung on a crude vinyl backdrop, the mounted chenille-stem panels look like puzzle parts. Your instinct is to try to rearrange them to form the complete image, but the distortions are too acute. Imagery of the Coast Guard building is confined to the top two quarters of the Hopper painting. Flipped and rotated, the painting pieces become weirdly kaleidoscopic and even oppressive to look at.

More intriguing are the bottom two, predominantly landscape-filled, quarters of the Hopper painting. Here the rocky outcrop on which the guardhouse is perched has been reduced to an abstracted, blurry roughness. These images are creepy and disturbing.

In the show's catalog, the exhibition's curator, Patterson Sims, writes that scientific concepts like "fractals" and neurological priming" help underpin the artist's patterns. That might be so, but it would be a mistake to see her pixilated image-translations as mere mechanical distortions. Science, for Ms. Sperber, is just a jumping off point.

The most interesting aspect of Ms. Sperber's work is the way she intuitively plays with scale and the three-dimensional quality of the materials to manipulate our perception of the painting. Through this process, a straightforward realist images is transformed into a complex visual puzzle.

This, in the end, is the best way to look at Ms. Sperber's work-as visual games. Although content can take a back seat, the results are always entertaining and, often, a little astonishing. -- Benjamin Genocchio

"Quartered, Flipped and Rotated: An Installation by Devorah Sperber," Montclair Art Museu, 3 South Mountain Avenue, Montclair, through May 15. Information: (973) 746-5555 or

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