Jessica Stockholder's "Grab grassy this moment your I’s" at Laumeier Sculpture Park (2011)


Jessica Stockholder’s maverick galvanization of painting, sculpture and installation by way of Ikea and Home Depot has long been her stock accolade, but she’s overdue as many gold stars for the inventive poetics of her approach and her pioneering role in the current and now popularly anthologized “unmonumental” aesthetic. Grab grassy this moment your I’s, a survey of recent work by Stockholder on view in the Museum Galleries at Laumeier Sculpture Park, redresses these fresh historic gaps by pairing her sculptures with a new suite of mordantly elegant poems by Mary Jo Bang, and reacquainting the viewer with her distinctly expert and earnest art. Stuff, in Stockholder’s work, speaks at once to the basely utilitarian and evanescently abstract, while also creating an associative visual lyricism quixotically limned in the buy-in-bulk market. By paralleling her sculptures with Bang’s poems, which were inspired by but not directly allusive of the pieces on view, a symmetry emerges between the function of disparately assembled objects and the slipperiness of words in verse.

There is no irony, here, when an up-ended yellow-green lamp holds, in the bowl of its palm-leaf shade, its own lit bulbs, a yellow plastic whiffle ball and a yellow dish washing scrubby, in a title-less (not “untitled”) 2006 sculpture. A dangling orange extension cord powers another lamp -- a lavish chintz piece with a pale, faux island as a base and a pale faux palm as its neck; it sits upright, illuminating a white wall on which two white plastic cooler lids hang, both brushed with swatches of teal paint. White paint covers the end table on which the island lamp stands; white paint also coats half of a wooden frame, emptily bracketing the other palm-themed lamp. Motifs repeat -- white and white; teal and teal; yellow scrubby and yellow whiffle ball; two tropical lamps -- but they never function as metaphors. This is Stockholder’s masterfully self-hewn grammar: things are what they are and what they seem -- changing merely in proximity and relation to one another, often in both echoic and contradicting ways.

While the absurdity of island lampshades coupled with cooler tops and whiffle balls certainly smacks of playfulness, these assorted items in their sculptural context lack a sense of acerbic, winking satire or larger, cultural allusion. This is where it becomes clear how Stockholder’s work remains distinct in this new age of assemblage art: while current practitioners, like Rachel Harrison for example, share similar penchants for painterly and sculptural hybridity and consumer-grade materials, their project invests more worth in the included objects’ social status, resulting in a more conceptual project with direct socio-political commentary. In Stockholder’s work, if a commentary exists, it’s diffuse and in regard to the emotional life; indeed, her work is shaped by the culture of big-box stores and heedless consumerism, but a specific, prosaic agenda is absent. As such, Stockholder serves as an importantly intuitive forbear to this current strain of more object-prioritizing, and perhaps more Duchampian and capitalistic, collaged sculpture. 

Once Stockholder’s expressive immediacy is grasped -- where, for instance, a lime green bucket will be jammed with a stuffed-full yellow bag and then loosely draped with partially painted-upon fake fur -- one begins to understand the nature of its trenchant poetry. Bang’s poems draw out this important aspect of Stockholder’s practice, wherein a personal “I” lyrically reports on her state of being. As one of Bang's poems states, “Think of me as a plant stand turned animal. / Something to hold, or be held”. By coupling such words with Stockholder’s sculptural assemblages, their assorted parts begin to speak powerfully of the vicissitudes of interior experience. As the exhibition title suggests, an urgently ecstatic version of “seize the day” is invoked in the work, underscoring the importance of the immediate, as it is so often rooted in our own domestic and private spheres, and here fabulously re-erected as a vivid, abstract stage in Stockholder’s hands. 

Jessica Stockholder's Grab grassy this moment your I’s was on view at Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis, Feburary 12 - May 29, 2011. This review was published by Art Papers, May 2011.