Laumeier Sculpture Park

Brandon Anschultz's "Pacer" at the Contemporary Art Museum, St. Louis (2012)


Sometimes you have to tear a thing down before you can see it anew. St. Louis-based painter Brandon Anschultz has made a dedicated practice out of this occasional truth, dismantling the constituent elements of painting in order to reinvent them for himself and for the beleaguered medium’s sake. His recent solo exhibit, Pacer, may be the most lyrical synthesis of his deconstructive project to date -- engaging expressionist and procedural approaches to abstraction, impulses toward object-making, and vigorous experimentation with materials and substrates. In plotting out only a spare number of carefully selected pieces in the intimate confines of the Front Room space, a vivid conversation emerges, at once expert and frenetic, in which Anschultz’s anti-subject (painting) is eviscerated in the same breath that it’s remade.

A piece of green-tinted tempered glass sits on the gallery floor and leans against a wall; caddy-corner to it, at traditional viewing height, a stretched canvas hangs. The duo, titled Pink/Green (2012), works as one, each sharing a dimly pastel palette of loose, provisional marks that spread like rashes over their high corner regions, each exchanging complementary notes on notions of opacity and transparency. Across from this pair, at the gallery’s far end, a mass of clay-colored paint with thin strands of copper wire protruding from it, lays on the floor; above it, a copper-colored metal rod straddles the gallery’s top corner ledge, a mass of chartreuse paint dangling from its center. This duo, titled Shark/Green Wad (2012), also works in concert but to more tensile ends: one colored mass seems to threaten the other, playing on the drama of gravity or, alternately, the stealthy freedom of untethered things. Peepshow (2012) is the exhibit’s dark center. Appearing singly on the wall opposite the two diptychs, it hangs as would a conventional painting and appears as such, from a distance. Closer inspection reveals a monochrome abstraction inked on a hunk of crudely-trimmed packing foam, saturated with assorted shades of black that vaguely shimmer (foam of this variety has reflective flecks mixed into it) when it catches light. At once glam and somber, the piece anchors the candy-colored works in its midst, drawing out the formal and emotive seriousness of Anschultz’s project while retaining its signature shine.

What hasn’t been dismantled, here? Paintings move from wall to floor; positive and negative distinctions dissolve or conflate; paint appears on transparent substrates or on none at all; substrates fail to perform -- absorbing wholly the material they’re intended to host. The very status of a painting as a two-dimensional window that has little concern for its status as an object let alone an object in contingent space, is effectively disrupted. Rather, both sculptural and curatorial concerns come necessarily into play: where a piece is placed rewrites how it communicates. In Anschultz’s work, correspondence is key, and irresolution poses not a problem but an opportunity for discourse. Like the exhibit’s title itself, which suggests a person moving back and forth in contemplative rumination, the pieces reverberate off themselves, finishing one another’s sentences in rapid contagion.

The exploration of painting’s materiality is not new for Anschultz. In his 2010 exhibit Stick Around for Joy (2010 at Laumeier Sculpture Park, as part of its annual Kranzberg Exhibition Series), a similar concern for the medium’s overlap with sculpture prevailed. Pieces were sculpted out of plaster, which was then painted; one piece consisted entirely of several years’ worth of paintings ground down to wood chips, appearing as a massive pillar (in a clear plastic trash bag). Pieces also engaged the environmental nature of the exhibition space -- which was once a residence -- and rested on window sills or bore vague resemblances to staircases.

It’s Pacer’s spare and understated confidence that raises it to a new level of conviction in this ferocious quest for reinvention. Like the music from which Anschultz often borrows his titles (Pacer is a 1995 album by the Amps; Peepshow is a 1988 album by Siouxsie and the Banshees), there’s a cool anthemic quality to the rhythms at play in his work and their spacial orchestration. And unlike most formalist projects, something personal emerges from this constant challenging of the medium: the work may unfurl in the rawest of ways, but a meticulous art vigilantly directs the process.

Brandon Anschultz's Pacer was on view at the Front Room of the Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, March 22 - April 22, 2012. This review was published by Art Papers, July 2012.

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.