Material world

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Following up on Roberta’s comments on Patricia Piccinini’s sculptures at Robert Miller Gallery, her second body of work was transcendent surf-and-car-culture meets aboriginal totems (top). I suppose I should repeat at this point that she’s Australian.

Wow. Her “Car Nuggets” are beauties.

The primitive sources suggested by their shapes drives straight into modernity with auto-paint finishes straight from the detailing shop, including marks inspired by classic flames and biker skulls. I wanted to take home a couple but would have needed to move out my dresser to make enough space.

Also at Miller were paintings by Yayoi Kusama (who, I just discovered today, was included in the “Group Zero” show at the ICA in 1964). Kusama was a ’60s darling of the art and performance world who has had a recent comeback with her celestial dots and spots and networks (shown, “Nets Infinity”).

Roberta and I saw a fabulous show of her gouaches at Princeton several years ago, and she’s got a mind-bending starry installation, “Fireflies on the Water” (shown), all colored lights and mirrors, at the Whitney Biennial this year.

She’s no spring chicken, born in 1929. Living in Tokyo since the 1970s in a clinic for the mentally ill (she committed herself), she continues making artwork that suggests infinite space with obsessive anti-grids. The pieces at Miller, dated 2004, are made with an iridescent paint that catches the light to shift the shapes and colors, depending on the perspective and the lighting (shown, “Infinity Nets” detail).

While both Piccinini and Kusama captured some spirituality with their shiny surfaces, Noh, Sang-Kyoon at Bryce Wolkowitz Gallery was hit-and-miss.

Noh, who represented Korea at the 1999 Venice Bienale seems to have found a gimmick with his sequin-covered Buddhas and canvases. I went looking on Google for sequin history, and all I learned was the word sequin comes from a Turkish coin, so I’m unclear if this work is about East meets West or Liberace Zen or covering up religion in decoration or what. But mostly the end product didn’t rise above the material, let alone transcend to anything spiritual.

If I saw the work as commentary on decoration, like Ann Craven’s birds, that would make things a lot easier. But Noh’s work suggests he’s got higher aspirations. Some of his Buddhas are dressed in matte-black sequins, that absorb light like black holes and repel contemplation. No, decoration is not the subject.

For all that, my favorite was pretty decorative, a canvas of green sea creatures on a mother-of-pearl background, the transparency and wateriness captured nicely by the improbable material.

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features & interviews, material world, reviews

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