Wednesday, June 09, 2004

Jessica Stockholder at Sable-Castelli Gallery -- N. Post June 5, 2004

Jessica Stockholder, famous for her massive and messy installations that tend to look a bit like cleanup sites after a tornado has ripped through Wal-mart, doesn't always work super-size.
The seven sculptural works at Sable-Castelli Gallery this month, are less-than-big, at least in terms of Stockholder who normally requires museum-size spaces to orchestrate her unruly environments. The smallest work in this show is no larger than a Sunday painter’s landscape painting. The largest is about as big as a bus shelter. But at any scale, Stockholder still manages to keep dreaming up wacky ways of relating the unrelated, and mostly by just rearranging stuff you’d find around the house.

"Ground Cover Season Indoors," for instance, includes a dozen or more bungie cords hooked to a park bench that’s been generously slathered with bands of pink and white paint. The cords are pulled tight and are hooked to the wall forming a square grid that partially overlaps a patch of green painted on the wall. Below that is a children’s rocking chair painted orange in parts, and a peanut-shaped patch of Astroturf beside a pile of green electrical cord.

Stockholder-philes will find this a familiar list of oddball materials she’s so famous for using.
While most us would consider her a sculptor for the most part, in almost every interview she has given over past two decades she has said she considers herself just as much a painter. But a painter who finds painting on canvas far too limiting. So she’s moved freely beyond the frame. "My work is generated by the pictorial" she tells me over the phone from her house in New Haven, Conneticut, where she teaches at Yale. "I usurp the painted space. Even so, I love that thing about painting."

In fact, if there is Stockholder signature, a gesture that’s an equivalent to the Pollock "drip," it would be pouring paint, especially pouring paint on carpeting. After she included that maneuver in a couple of her installations during the early-90s, no one else could repeat it without a nod of acknowledgment.

Stockholder was born in Seattle in 1959 but grew up in Vancouver and went to art school in Victoria. She moved to New York in 1985, around the time painter Julian Schnabel was famously gluing broken dinner plates to his canvases (another painter dying to break from the frame). The first year there, she says, she spent figuring out how to get a job. The next year, she started making art.

While her CV now lists more exhibitions in New York and around the world than in Canada, her first solo exhibition in 1984 was at the Art Culture Resource Center in Toronto. Four years later she was back again to construct a gallery-size installation at Mercer Union that included a stack of hay bales balanced precariously between an elevated makeshift platform and the ceiling. I remember seeing it and thinking it looked both humble and exuberant at the same time -- an ambitiously weird idea constructed out of makeshift materials. It looked brave and smart, too, for being so openly messy and anti-minimalist, especially at a time when Toronto was primarily interested in art dense in theory and devoid of any visual wow-ness.

That kind of exuberance still defines her work two decades later. Even in her smaller sculptures there’s the careful balancing of wobbly appearances and inspirational happenstance. It’s tempting to try tipping a few of these Stockholder-minis over, though they probably wouldn’t budge. --CO

Jessica Stockholder runs until July 10 at Sable-Castelli Gallery 33 Hazelton Ave. $8000-$40,000US.