Monday, December 13, 2010

Upstairs At The Renwick Gallery

Upstairs at the Renwick Gallery there is always more great work on view (which I visited after viewing A Revolution In Wood), some rotating, some on permanent display. My favorite of the permanent work is Wendell Castle's Ghost Clock (1985). The label says they acquired it in 1989 but the first time I noticed it was in the mid-90's (maybe '96 or '97?). It was placed between a couple of display rooms in a foyer-like space so it was particularly difficult to recognize as art. The only reason I noticed it was because the guard called me back after I past and told me to take a closer look at the label, which read simply, "bleached and stained mahogany." Still in disbelief at what I was seeing, he told me to look behind it (being placed in the center of the room, I was able to do this) and up from underneath to see a spot where the "sheet" and "clock" are connected. It has since been moved to a more recognizably art location, probably because the guard got tired of calling people back to take a closer look, and it now has its back to the wall so you can't get behind it, thus you'll have to take my word that there is a tiny spot (and only one tiny spot that you need to get on your hands and knees to see) where the deception is revealed. Update November 21, 2011: I was at the Renwick a couple of weeks ago and noticed it has since been moved back to the center of a room, so you can now inspect the entire piece to your hearts content.
The perfectly carved wrinkles, puckers, and dimples make it particularly deceptive. In addition, on past viewings I've felt that he somehow was able to sculpt the weave of the thread into the wood but on this last visit I finally realized that the open grain nature of mahogany creates the effect of giving it a thread count.
Also upstairs, as part of their rotating exhibit, was this piece by Christian Burchard, Basket Series (1997), made with madrone. He likes to collaborate with nature in creating his sculptures and these are a good example. It looks like he charred them to get a black interior. The brown exterior and the naturally warped surface gives them the look of leather and help the viewer to recognize that these objects came from a living thing.

It was interesting to see that Christian's piece was donated by John and Robyn Horn and across the room was this piece, Slashed Millstone (1996) made by Robyn Horn. She is in an elite group of collectors that are also great artists. I find her work interesting in a number of ways but in particular I like how she uses wood to create sculptures of stone. It is a little humorous really, but it also makes sense, you can't really make a sculpture of stone in stone without it being the object rather than the sculpture of the object, and other media (clay, metal, glass) would look too contrived or artificial. Wood, on the other hand, provides its own natural irregularities that mimic metamorphosed sediment. This piece is made with ebonized redwood burl.
It was also good to see Binh Pho's work. This piece, Journey to Destiny (2003), is made with oak, maple, gold leaf, acrylic paint, and dye. I saw a show of his work in one of his galleries over the summer and learned that he still works a full-time engineering job, which seems impossible given his level of art production and the intensity of his work. He must not need or want sleep.
And finally, there was this piece by Daniel Essig, Book of Nails II (2003), made with a virtual short story of materials -- mahogany, various metals, hand-made flax paper, velvet, linen thread, mica, trilobite, leather, paint, stains, and epoxy. It caught my eye because it reminds me of Janet Van Fleet's work with its use of nails and books. Too bad the museum has a case over the piece preventing visitors from handling it; the book would be interesting to close to see what it looks like with the nails surrounding the carcass and feeling their hard edges. It is very intriguing, a lot to look at, play with, and think about.

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