Strong Shows make Good Use of
'Installation' Concept by Chris Waddington
Anything goes in today's art world - and frequently the first
thing to go are the distinctions between painting, sculpture,
architecture and other traditional disciplines. The resulting
cross-breeds are tagged with the vague label of "installation
art", and encompass works whose only shared purpose is the
attempt to create a total, theatrical environment from the
sanitized spaces of the contemporary gallery.
impulse with deep roots in Western Art - from the site-specific
sculptural programs of Baroque churches to the domestic interiors
of Victorian designer William Morris. That impulse takes new
forms in a trio of fine, summer exhibitions in the Warehouse
as a ceramicist; Steve Rucker has stretched the bounds of
his craft for years, shaping environments that reflect his
obsession with the Southern landscape - and the serial nature
of industrial ceramic production. His remarkable show at Arthur
Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St., include two room-size installations
and a suite of related paintings.
fills the lofty front room of the gallery with seven rows
of terracotta pots, each dangling above yellow light bars
that bevel the floor like high-tech furrows. Angling across
the rectangular room, those rows seem to push at the walls,
engaging the whole space in a dynamic relationship. Rucker
also harnesses gravity to expressive ends, hanging upside-down
pots on steel cables that stretch from the ceiling. Those
taut verticals lead one's eye downward to wire plants that
branch from the pots and strain toward the lights below them.
hasn't simply created a formal approximation of the forces
that exist in nature. He has turned his greenhouse upside
down in an effort to reveal the strange fruits of Southern
society. Here his plants blossom with guns, hot peppers, pharmaceutical
gel-caps, rolled dollar bills, green leaves that curl upward
like beggar's hands, and mirror fragments that evoke the broken
glass decoration found on folk shrines from the Congo to Mississippi.
circles the piece, fresh views and details appear: plunging
aisles and blocked vistas; clay pencils that curves like bananas
caught in a dance; repetitions like those in a product-crammed
Walmart display; and the constant glint of mirror fragment
giving the piece a kinetic aspect.
installation fills the gallery tiny back room. Here Rucker
also evokes the world of gardening, having planted rows of
stand-up, ceramic letters on the floor, then cutting across
those rows with banded fluorescent tubes that illuminate his
phrases actually have a poetic ring, a child's garden of rhyme
(and schoolyard chants) springing from the floor to evoke
an "agriculture horticulture fertilizer stew."
calls the piece "Subverse", but it could be retitled "Subversive"
for its sly take on New Orleans gardening. Here the proverbs
have us trying "a little bit of rhythm a little bit of rain",
since we're "gonna grow groceries for the well to do."
paintings actually seem closer to traditional ceramic concerns
than his installations. His glossy, richly worked surfaces
evoke the textures of pottery glazes, while his churning landscape
imagery seems fitted to his oddly shaped panels in the same
manner that a potter adapts surfaces designs to the shape
of a vessel.
the nature that appears in so much of her imagery, artist
Beverly Fishman scatters her gifts prodigally, covering the
walls of Heriard-Cimino Gallery, 440 Julia St., with clusters
of low relief disks that bear photographic images of stars
and cells, and luminous abstract paint.
her constellations spread across 30 square feet and contain
about 100 separate elements, each place with a template on
the vast emptiness of the wall; others are composed of a dozen
clustered elements, squeezed tightly as cells in living tissue.
But whether viewed as cells or stars, Fishman's work underscores
the similarities between the building blocks of nature and
the circular blocks that compose her creations. Like nature
itself, her work seems in flux, ready to metastasize into
new and larger configurations - or to break away into single
cells that hold their own as elegant presences.
the world into her work - in the form of heavily manipulated
photographs - this abstract artist put her designs in a larger
intellectual context even as she enriches the vocabulary of
textures and shapes from which she spins painterly improvisations.
This lets her avoid the decorative dead-end encountered by
less accomplished abstract artist.
Neil Harshfield often uses glass in his creations, but only
pays glancing homage to the medium's tradition of functional
crafts. A few years ago, for example, he created nostalgically
charged sculptures by "repairing" old garden tools and farm
equipment, adding glass tines to a rake, a glass bed to a
new show at Still-Zinsel Gallery, 328 Julia St., Harshfield
extends that interest in vernacular forms to chairs, sandbags,
and language itself, creating settings for glass tea cups
etched with transitive verbs: "father", "mother", "bank",
"foster" and other words that have ambiguous meanings when
taking outside the context of a sentence. In "Bank", for example,
his text-etched teacups seats atop a bank of hundreds of tiny
sandbags which he has banked against the wall. For those who
haven't moved fully into the era of electronic banking, the
piece is also a fine, theatrical evocation of the loot stacked
in banks. Works such as this wouldn't look out of place in
a staging of some anti-capitalist parable by Bertolt Brecht.
other works take a less punning approach to language. In "Foster",
for example, the word appears on a teacup that sits atop an
exaggeratedly tall chair. Here Harshfield implies that chairs,
like people, may only grow by being fostered, but he also
creates a potent image of the isolate place of the foster
child, set apart in a high chair against the gallery wall.
three strong shows in New Orleans, it's clear that Harshfield
is emerging as a strong regional talent, who moves freely
from intellectual word play to the emotional force that a
real object maker can conjure. His work looks good beside
that of veterans such as Rucker and national talents such
as Fishman. With luck, New Orleans will see more from all