Material As Metaphor and Betye Saar

Material As Metaphor and Betye Saar

There’s an enormous tension between the two shows currently on view at the Craft & Folk Art Museum; yet each resonates all the more powerfully for the juxtaposition. While Material As Metaphor is emphatically abstract, and Keepin’ It Clean explicitly grounded in the physical, historical actuality of African-American enslavement and oppression, both are earth-bound in their materiality (even Lisa Soto’s construction of seemingly ricocheting bullet casings and fishing line, The shortest distance between two points… (2016-17) underscores what constitutes those points and how that distance is traversed) and conscious of the inevitability of their intersections and their very real consequences. A few of the artists here work with industrial felt, following to some extent in Robert Louis’s capacious footsteps, but moving in very different directions. Kay Whitney gestures towards a gravity-defying skyward upsurge with her Skyhook (2016), but its waves of felt ribbons are wrapped around the distinctly organic plywood shapes that form its base – themselves perched upon spiky legs. Lloyd Hamrol, who has previously worked with industrial felt to brilliant sculptural and spatial effect, presents a site-specific Cascade of umber industrial felt that both implicates the immediate context of the Museum, while implying a world and dimensions beyond it, including the world outside. (The déluge is not ‘après nous,’ but right before us.) Senga Nengudi, whose work (using pantyhose) has always implied movement and spatial extension, here shifts her focus more directly not simply to the body (which is always implied), but to its specific charge and contact points, its intersections and their configuration, reminding us how palpably such tensions can register. Victoria May’s work in contrasting hard and shiny (rubber inner-tubing) and soft opaque (silk) coils are a kind of crash of the organic and synthetically manufactured worlds – an explosion of corruption and decay – a hard-soft scream at the Alien always present amongst us. ‘Have at us,’ they seem to imply. In stark contrast, Betye Saar’s vintage washboard reconstructions, variously painted, printed, and collaged are a caution to the free-fall fest upstairs. “We was mostly ‘bout survival,” many of them remind us – something the culture-at-large seems to be re-learning in its current nose-dive into crash-and-burn chaos. 

Craft & Folk Art Museum (CAFAM)
  5814Wilshire Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90036
Show runs thru August 20, 2017