One Word: Plastics, at Sandler Hudson Gallery through May 31, is a group show based on the creative use of recycled plastic materials by four different artists. The title alludes to the advice that “the graduate” was given by a well-wisher in the 1967 film of that name: “There’s a great future in plastics,” the Dustin Hoffman character was told. “Will you think about it?” These artists, all women, have, and in surprisingly different ways.
Pam Longobardi contributes a new mirror-frame shape composed of plastics discarded in cities or washed up on the world’s beaches. Dianna Cohen, another well-known artist concerned with the problem of plastic waste, creates wall hangings from plastic shopping bags, making pointed use of the often startling screen-printed words and images on them. It is hard to believe that the woman in a burka on one of the bags composing the Vessel collage was not added by Cohen; it was apparently brought back for her by a friend visiting the eastern Mediterranean. Some of the collages seem to imply a set of social concerns about waste and/or excess, while others, such as Soccer, are clever but simple visual puns (in this case, the image of a soccer ball created with overlaid bag fragments).
The only artist not using found plastics, Marietta Hoferer creates her large-format geometric drawings with reflective plasticized tape on paper. Her use of the shinily decorative features of a seemingly unromantic material provides an element of pleasurable surprise that is a reminder of why plastics seemed to provide “a great future” to business professionals in the 1960s.
Ilene Sunshine presents two bodies of work in the show. One consists of an inventively abstract assemblage featuring such found objects as a yellow plastic light bulb cover and blue plastic-coated wire cable, combined with her own handmade abaca paper. These delicately elegant, no more than faintly whimsical sculptures are juxtaposed with distinctly lyrical 2-D pieces in which fragments of plastic bags are sewn to paper together with a leaf coated in gesso in a composition finished with overlays of Flashe vinyl-based paint (still more plastic!). If the paper covering the plastic sculptures disguises their materials’ sometimes-ludicrous original uses — such as stairs in a toy castle or a plastic bottle crushed by a car — Sunshine’s framed collages conceal their combination of nature and (pop) culture even more persuasively. The leaf looks fundamentally like an artistic fiction, while the plastic bag fragment looks no more unnatural than the coated leaf. Overall, One Word: Plastics can stir thought in a variety of ways, but first and foremost the exhibition demonstrates how one of the less attractive elements in our contemporary society can be turned into visually seductive works of art.