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Back to Reviews 98

  american homes and travelers

by Robert Marshall  

Elana Herzog
Untitled #2
Elena Herzog at P.P.O.W.
Jan. 8-Feb. 7, 1998
Elena Herzog makes sculptural objects from old blankets, curtains and towels, sewed and stuffed and draped, hung from the ceiling or wall or plopped in the middle of the floor. Her works alternately suggest the weariness of domesticity and our attempts to conceal and comfort the body. But Herzog doesn't simply rely on her suggestive materials to give the work power. She loves the stuff, and transforms it.

In one piece, a shower curtain becomes a dress, or perhaps a headless figure, or maybe even some sort of angel. Another work, created out of polyester blankets and black beaded fringe, suggests an ottoman or perhaps an oversized pin cushion. Then there's Herzog's 12-foot-high white canopy bed, fringed with plastic beads. In these works, every twist and fold of fabric and plastic seems considered. The gestural lines created by the furrows of an old bedspread on the floor matter as much to Herzog as any mark in a formalist drawing. These works are personal, graceful, and just a bit perverse.

Peter Garfield
Mobile Home (Split-level)
Peter Garfield at Feigen Contemporary
Jan. 30-Mar. 7, 1998
While Herzog uses household materials, Peter Garfield uses the entire house. To make his dramatic photographs, in which suburban homes seem to be flying through the air as if swept up in some tornado, he builds small models and tosses them in the air. One can't help but be reminded of Dorothy's farmhouse in the Wizard of Oz. Garfield's photos are homemade cinematic moments; he is creating and recording a special effect. But it is important to remember that special effects can be special. They may be as close as we can come to transcendence.

Garfield's work is in the American landscape tradition, which he reinvigorates by inverting the relationship of building and sky. Like his predecessors Thomas Cole and Ed Ruscha, Garfield's images rely on that sky. They rely, also, on the power of the idea of flight. And both flight and houses are common motifs in dreams. Perhaps that is what makes these images so compelling -- the intersection of these two recurrent unconsious motifs.


James Hill
Pacific Dreams
James Hill at Bill Maynes
Dec. 17, 1997-Jan. 28, 1998
James Hill's work belongs to a very different American tradition. He's a descendent of the great mental traveler, Joseph Cornell. Like Cornell, he is a collector as well as an artist. His paintings, shown at Bill Maynes in January, include objects from everywhere: from toy horses and dancing plastic couples to beads and buddhas. There are bits of mirror wire and cheap jewelry, as well as fragments of images taken from artists like Pollock, Rauschenberg and Cornell. Hill shows that one can collect artistic references in the same way one collects things. He also throws in some cutlery -- but his knife stuck on the canvas has none of the pretentiousness of Schnabel's broken plates. In Hill's work, the distinction between image and material collapses. So does the distinction between collecting art and collecting kitsch. If you collect James Hill's work, you get to have both.

Randy Wray
Untitled (Still Life)
Randy Wray at Jack Tilton
Feb. 10-Mar. 7, 1998
Randy Wray's new paintings, on view in a group show at Jack Tilton in February, also combine the representational and the abstract. The work is personal and idiosyncratic but at the same time highly removed. There's something creepy about this. Wray begins by making papier mache sculptures embedded with lobster shells and various bric-a-brac. He photographs these and scans the pictures into a computer. The image is broken down into a numerically coded system which Wray uses as a road map to make a version of paint-by-number pictures. The paintings that emerge from this complex filtering process are strange hybrids of the predetermined and the gestural.

Wray weaves his way between the homespun and the technological -- he weaves them together. These images wouldn't have been possible before the digital era. But Wray doesn't fetishize the computer's processes. He acknowledges and uses them as another element in the language of painting, incorporated in the way that the lobster shells are worked into the unseen sculptures or that macrame and cigarette butts were used in his earlier work. These systematic but subjective paintings relate to other contemporary work -- Chuck Close of course comes to mind. But they also take us into Wray's own unfamiliar and personal world. It's good to be reminded that painting, which has had to rise from the dead so many times, can still have this power.

ROBERT MARSHALL is an artist and writer who lives in New York.