Editors' pick

Sculpture Now 2012

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Editorial Review

Transforming the way we look at things
By Michael O'Sullivan
Friday, July 6, 2012

Form and transformation are on view in “Sculpture Now 2012,” an annual juried exhibition sponsored by the Washington Sculptors Group.

Form is self-explanatory. It’s the physical manifestation of an object -- shape, texture and material. Form is what most people think of when they think of sculpture. The idea of transformation, on the other hand, is best exemplified by the famous comment by artist Jasper Johns, which he is said to have scribbled in his sketchbook: “Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it.”

Among the 31 works on view at the Pepco Edison Place Gallery are a number of intriguing formal transformations. Jeffery Cooper’s “Gearjam 1,” for instance, gains strength and visual appeal from the contrast between its industrial appearance -- a tight knot of thick, machinelike cogwheels -- and its unexpected material -- pieces of carved walnut, not metal.

Similarly, artist Peter Karis plays on the tension between the form of a cube and the form of a sphere, casting a pair of angular, boxlike shapes in urethane rubber and inflating them with a pump, like basketballs, until they’re neither one thing nor the other, but something in between.

Many of the “Sculpture Now” artists inhabit this gray area. Joel D’Orazio’s “Louis XIV (1119)” is -- or was -- a metal chair. But it’s hardly recognizable as one, and you certainly couldn’t sit comfortably in it because of the explosion of curling wire emanating in an evocation of the French monarch’s cascading tresses.

Cathleen Sachse’s “Mini Rex, Dutch Mix, Human. #1” also involves an ingenious kind of recycling, centering on a store-bought throw rug that was destroyed by the chewing of pet rabbits. The artist repaired the holes with white thread created from harvested rabbit “wool,” using the torn rug fibers to knit a rabbit-shaped sweater of sorts for a papier-mache bunny sculpture. It’s odd, and not especially beautiful, but strangely compelling.

Other standout artists include Mille Jewtich and Nicole Salimbene. Jewtich’s “Rubber Interactive Pulse Membrane” is a wall-mounted piece that requires the participation of the viewer -- standing or jumping on a nearby air bladder -- to inflate an array of condoms flopping from the center of the work. Salimbene’s “Autobiography of Consumption: 5 Scrolls” features six months of receipts from grocery stores, restaurants and other retailers handsewn together into five 30-foot strips on which the artist has printed a series of photographs.

It’s arguable that Salimbene’s work -- part performance, part photography, part craft -- doesn’t belong in a sculpture show. It is certainly, however, transformative.

One could make the same argument about Michael Corigliano’s “Galatea,” a photograph documenting a performance in which a topless woman covered her skin with slip, the soupy mix of water and clay used by ceramicists. Or, for that matter, about Meaghan Carpenter’s “Trust,” a mobile nail salon housed under a tentlike canopy in one corner of the gallery. During the show’s opening, visitors could crawl in and get a free manicure.

Maybe those pieces aren’t sculpture, let alone art.

To the credit of “Sculpture Now,” those questions seem to be ones that the exhibit is only too happy to entertain.

The story behind the work
By Michael O’Sullivan
Friday, July 6, 2012

The title of Elsabe Dixon’s work in “Sculpture Now 2012” is a mouthful. So the artist sometimes refers to “Honey, Silk, Latex/Consumption, Luxury, Necessity = Object Commodity” simply as “the equation piece.”

According to the artist, any implied equivalence is more poetic than scientific, alluding to themes of the environment, class and other things. At the same time, Dixon’s floor installation involves an element of biology.

The South African-born, Virginia-based artist’s work typically incorporates live silkworms. Several can be seen in pupal form here, wrapped in the cocoons that are scattered throughout her sculpture’s nooks and crannies, which are created from loops of paper, stiffened with plaster and dipped in yellow latex paint. The paint matches some of the silken cocoons, their color a result of the type of Bombyx mori worm Dixon uses. According to Dixon, gold-colored garments worn by France’s “Sun King,” Louis XIV, were spun by this very type of worm.

Early in the show’s run, the worms -- which are now in a period of dormancy before they emerge as moths -- could be seen spinning silk. Faint, drawing-like traces are still visible on the gallery floor, with spider-webby remnants clinging to the sculpture itself.

For Dixon, the worms are not just art material -- or even tiny collaborators -- but an integral part of her work’s subtle subject matter, which has to do less with silk than with complicated relationships between man and nature, and between the haves and the have-nots.