Review: New works at the Front
D. Eric Bookhardt on shows by Ves Pitts, Sally Heller, Nina Schwanse and John Otte
July 24, 2012
By D. Eric Bookhardt
When it comes to unexpected concepts, The Front has been on a hot streak of late, but probably no one could have anticipated anything quite as colorful as Ves Pitt’s photographs, except perhaps a transsexual performance artist. A native of Alabama, Pitts spent two decades in New York documenting, as he puts it, “people who spend a lot of time on their appearance” even if they often look like escapees from The Rocky Horror Show. Pitts also covers the scene in London, Cairo and Miami, where he says, “the 1970s suburban housewife look is all the rage.” But it’s mostly a walk on the wild side of Manhattan’s tranny demimonde where Pitts is part anthropologist and part impresario. He clearly loves his outrageous cast of characters and the feeling seems mutual, yielding images mingling shock and empathy in a singular photographic balancing act. Read More.
Sheer Art Attack!
Walking the Galleries with Jonathan Williams
By Jonathan Williams
Reusing discarded objects to create new pieces of art is not a wholly original idea. But the work of New Orleans’ Sally Heller is more than just found art with her intentional use of mostly plastics and disposable items of mass production in contexts that challenge their originally intended uses.
In the Thicket Of It is an art installation and photography exhibit at Whitespace with clever commentary on consumer culture intended more to offer a comically new way of looking at these items than to make any sort of political statement. Yet the inherent message can’t be overlooked as Heller’s work provides subtle assessments on consumerism and the environment.
The accompanying photographs document the installation’s construction with warped images taken through mirrored Mylar used in the installation. These distorted looks at the same work that is physically present offer yet another way of looking at otherwise everyday objects.
By Dorothy M. Joiner
In declaring “The Woods of Arcady… dead, and their antique joy… over.” Wiliam Butler Yeats lamented that the “dreaming” of the “old world” had been replaced in his day by the “painted toy” of “Grey Truth.” The Irish poet had not, however, foreseen Sally Heller’s site-specific installation. In the Thicket of It [Whitespace; October 16—November 21, 2009]. Recycling castoffs and soulless detritus such as plastic caps and supermarket bags into an unabashedly enchanting copse, Heller forsakes Grey Truth and reclaims Arcady’s dreaming.
Greeting the viewer who has just crunched through the gravel drive toward the vintage coach-house-turned-exhibition-space, parti-colored photographs capture details of Heller’s recent window installation at Bergdorf Goodman New York City. Each is a dynamic abstract composition characterized by vibrant color and engaging patterns. Two larger photographs record reflections of the installation on mirrored Mylar, whose rippled surface effects a pleasing warping of the imagery.
An ingenious assemblage—indeed, a “thicket”—greets the viewer in the adjacent space. Touches of orange, pink, fuchsia, and yellow accent the dominant hues of green, black, and white. “Trees” are formed from yellow craft paper and “stones” are made from wadded-up plastic bags. Bunched-up cellophane near the ceiling imitates clouds. “Pools” of mirrored Mylar and patches of synthetic straw line the ground. Linked together like oversized molecules, big Os from black pipe cleaners stand for spider webs, lending a geometric connectedness to the make-believe woods. And lengths of emerald-hued spandex stretch from floor to ceiling, creating a subliminal but pleasing tension in the configuration.
The artist also integrates seemingly random elements into the boscage: a suspended safety vest; little spools of thread cast on the ground; metallic boas hanging from “limbs”; graceful, twirling flourishes carved from orange plastic cups; “wheels” cut from Styrofoam plates; fuchsia ribbons dangling from “branches,” along with wooden clothespins and cardboards rolls from kitchen paper towels.
Heller completes the grove-like atmosphere with the cheerful warbling of birds while undercutting the illusion with the unobtrusive projections of a circus film featuring a trapeze artist on the wall to the left. This mesmerizing, slow-motion, black-and-white clip incorporates movement and light into the woods as it awakens a defiance—at least temporarily—of gravity.
The freedom, however illusory, of the airborne acrobat is echoed in several pendant vintage birdcages strategically positioned among the “branches.” All have open doors. Their captives have fled just as Heller invites the viewer to fly away in the imagination, recapturing the lost dreaming lamented by Yeats. Set up like a grid on one wall, squares of antique wallpaper reinforce the notion of incarceration. The artist has drawn birdcages, emblems of confinement, on them. One need only turn again to the woods, however, for release.
Heller’s playful “thicket” is less an inveighing against contemporary consumerism and waste than a fanciful transmogrification of disparate, castaway materials. Much like the sixteenth-century Mannerist who delighted in meraviglie—wonders—and believed, in the words of John Shearman, “that it was the business of art to improve upon nature,” she offers an artificial woodlet, meant to be enjoyed for its virtuosity. Born of an Epicurean spirit—Heller is a native of New Orleans—such art favors over-the-top excess, but here intemperance marries spontaneity to admirable craft.
By John R. Kemp
Sally Heller’s multimedia installations are visual journeys that take the imagination through the looking glass into a fantasy and theatrical swampland of shimmering silver mylar, wrapping paper, webbed pipe cleaners, plastic plates, chicken wire mesh and whiffle balls. They entertain, but more important, they make one think about the absurdities of modern society and pop culture. The ancients built stone cathedrals for immortality; today’s world makes plastic webbed six-pack holders that will outlast the work of even the greatest stonecutter. Read More.