The Weight of Matter, on view at Roberts Projects in Culver City, takes as it central premise the idea that artists are the keepers of radical thought, of dreams and incongruities, of nightmares and deepening schisms, and that these ideas are worth each and every dissection, no matter how minute or painstaking. On the surface, the exhibition appears to expand on the theme of materiality — how artists utilize their materials in new and inventive ways, yet if we look more closely, all the works included here begin with materiality as a central subject, and then deliberately and systematically subvert the process by which the works are imagined.
Aimee Goguen’s strangely intimate wood sculptures, for example, with deliberately obtuse titles like Clown Box (2017) and Ghost Box (2016), are simultaneously seductive and oblique like a beautiful conundrum that draws you in; Once captivated, however, the viewer realizes the works function more like miniature fortresses. The process by which these sculptures are made is their main appeal, as dozens of pieces of wood are positioned to create precise angles with near mathematical precision, yet the work also suggests a homespun materiality, and the deeper, less obvious content of imprisonment and secrecy.
The idea of keeping secrets, or subverting the more obvious content is also apparent in the work of Terri Friedman who has created a series of woven fiber sculptures made from stained glass, acrylic, wool, cotton and metallic fibers. The work brings to mind the more obvious associations of quilting and weaving, art practices that have historically been aligned with art made by women, yet Friedman’s sculptures are much too quirky to be considered simply “macro may art.” These are complex, beautifully crafted pieces that speak more to the riotous, experimental interests of artists like Hannah Wilke and Louise Bourgeois, both of whom destabilized the notion of domesticity. Like Wilke and Bourgeois, Friedman conflates the domestic impulse with the desire to destroy beauty, to bastardize it in order that we see more clearly the process by which it was constructed in the first place. These sculptures are not “objects of desire” but instead suggest moments of intemperate thought, of unexpurgated and unquantifiable longing. Even the titles like Looking for What is Not Wrong (2018) and awe/ful (2018) play with this same notion of disjunction wherein the viewer cannot situate himself/herself entirely within the work, but comes away with the sensation of being constantly in flux.
Evan Nesbit’s fiery and evocative paintings, all acrylic on burlap are electrifying both in terms of their materiality and their suggested narratives. From a distance, the paintings appear all of a piece, the saturated yellows and blues drawing you deeper into the paintings as a whole, yet up close, these works take on entirely new meaning. The burlap functions as a screen and when the paint is applied, the residue collects in each of the small holes, creating more of a sculptural effect. Yuba Fizz (2018) for example utilizes a distinctively Pop color palette, yet the abstracted shapes are reminiscent of Color Field painting wherein the meaning is sublimated into the materiality, creating a seamless relationship between form and content. Nesbit’s paintings also suggest the playfulness and singularity of Abstract Expressionism, and the perspectival rigor of the early works of Wassily Kandinsky.
Finally, James Hayward’s Abstract #176 (2012), is perfectly sumptuous in both its physicality and deeper contextual meaning. Working with oil on canvas stretched over wood panels, these small works demonstrate a thick, impasto application of the paint that suggests the movement of the ocean, or a tidal sea change perhaps. But it is the small trio of paintings entitled Red/Yellow/Blue Ratio Triptych (2010), that represent the heart and soul of this exhibition. Though they are intimate in scale, these small and luminous works are at once literal and metaphoric, spare and lush, intimate and brash, and perfectly embody the idea of the “weight of matter,” or how space interfaces with the heaviness of the paint. In this case, the “matter” under discussion refers to the tension inherent in the movement of the paint itself and the means by which Hayward showcases this movement elegantly within each of the panels. The smallness of scale also further emphasizes their pristine beauty.
In the end, the work in this exhibition speaks to the notion that materiality can propose a complex narrative structure lurking just beneath the surface. This is a constantly shifting territory that is often unreliable, yet as Gertrude Stein once put it, the best art “initiates an operation of unknown factors to be instructed by its results,” meaning that the narrative processes by which the work is imagined is central to the materiality of the work as a whole.