It’s rare to have the unintended juxtaposition of two separate exhibitions pose deep questions about sculpture and the human condition just by virtue of being in the same city at the same time. But the first American gallery show of a Korean sculptor and a solo show of a newly minted MFA from Georgia State University end up doing just that.
Cha Jongrye at Bill Lowe Gallery
Cha Jongrye layers together thin sheets of wood into blocks that she then carves into shapes that it seems almost impossible for wood to take. The most stunningly seductive works take the form of immense liquid undulations, wave forms that could represent the folds of fabric, the behavior of moving water or the shape of non-Euclidean space.
Other wall pieces’ repeated patterns of rising cones or knoblike protrusions also suggest something that could be viscous liquid (in some cases) or a representation of immaterial, invisible forces in physics. Whatever these works suggest, the ordinary form and grain of wood isn’t it.
From this artist’s perspective, this is a deeply Buddhist way of looking at the world. Nature is supported by a vast matrix of Buddha-fields that do not conform to the outward rigidities of materials, even if they obey the laws of an invisible inner nature. Wood can take on the softness of cloth or the mathematically explicable irregularities of abstract patterns of rising and falling.
Whether we understand them or not, these pieces seize our attention, and at their best they reshape our ideas of what a wooden sculpture should be and what it can do. They may also refine our perceptions regarding the nature of intrinsic beauty versus what we have been and can be led to expect from beautiful objects.
At Bill Lowe Gallery through July 13.
Kelly O’Brien at Callanwolde Fine Art Center Gallery
Kelly O’Brien is out to redeem disrespected materials by using them to make high art, but her method for doing so raises complex questions about attraction and repulsion, disgust and delight, and other pairs of opposites that slide into each other more often than we are willing to admit.
O’Brien thinks that plywood and spandex and glitter get no respect because of their cultural associations with construction fences, low-class workout clothing, party favors and so on. Hence she puts them together in carefully chosen combinations that address a very contemporary aesthetic question: what constitutes a sculpture versus a painting? How complexly three-dimensional can a painted surface be before it ceases to be just a wall piece spilling out into the room, or how much stain and built-up surface can a raw-wood floor piece take before it stops being sculptural and becomes painterly?
This art-world-insider perspective sidesteps the issue of whether some textures and arrangements of coloration are viscerally unpleasant or viscerally alluring, depending on your particular gut reaction. There are globs and flows and combinations of excessively bright blue and yellow here that assault the viewer’s perceptive apparatus so frontally that whatever the response may be, it will be intense.
Spandex doesn’t elicit negative emotions just because of its association with sports and exercise classes; its slithery slickness and utter artificiality combine to produce a sense of repulsion in many people. Plywood, likewise, is just plain ugly to a good many folks, no matter how elegantly angled its constructed form may be, and glitter is, well, glittery, associated with a type of reflected light that reeks of artifice.
Some people, though, like these materials for precisely those reasons; they are as far from the all too easily sentimentalized colors and patterns of nature as you can get. Their surfaces accept a color palette that nature doesn’t use much outside the realm of poison frogs in the Amazon Basin. They can be as functional or pointlessly pretty as you like, although glitter and plywood are usually at opposite ends of that particular spectrum.
O’Brien’s uses of them raise an immense range of provocative questions about our culturally and biologically constructed responses to shape and color and texture and degree and quality of shininess. It’s a profound set of topics to think about, and we don’t usually get them shoved into our faces to quite this degree, especially not in the historically and architecturally significant setting of a former Candler family mansion.
At Callanwolde Fine Art Center Gallery through August 24.