Going It Alone with Sculpture

WE FORGET what we know about sculpture when looking at Jessica Stockholder's art. At best, it doesn't apply. There are very few road signs which show us the way to what we think we can know about it. We just have to go it alone or stay home. This is what makes her work so brave and refreshing. Sure, there is a torch of sorts being picked up and passed along here: You could go back to the beginning of the century and Marcel Duchamp with his ``ready-mades.'' He reminded us that choice was much of what it was all about; what we choose to put in, let be, leave out. That the choice was the meaning.

And in the late '50s and early '60s and Robert Rauschenburg made assemblage art that ``combined'' objects with paint in a bold and jarring expression of the once raw American beauty. His works couldn't help but take issue with the social and political events of the day.

Stockholder may also use a lively, loaded brush, but her content is strictly linked to the form; the things themselves. Like Duchamp and Rauschenburg, she uses materials we don't often associate with art, some recycled and some unconventional. They become part of her vocabulary.

Stockholder also picks up the torch from artist Richard Tuttle's work in the '70s and '80s. His is the art eccentric and obscure, made with little to read or recognize. Tuttle inspired many artists by brushing aside anything in his way. It makes perfect sense that his work looked obscure; there was no real precedent for it in that the only thing he could accept was something absolutely fresh. His appetite for the new had to do with the complete vitality newness possessed. That meant using materials bred of the moment. It was radical thinking and radical art. Stockholder has inherited the ground Tuttle broke, and she is dancing on it.

Because there is no allusion to nature, illusion of nature, art convention, or conventional beauty, it might make it hard to connect with this work. But that's OK. What you see is what you get. So while some might call this work hard, what could be easier? You don't have to know anything. It's what we know that gets in the way. Letting go of that is what's hard. Just giving the work attention means knowing it. Stockholder makes letting go a pleasure because the work is so clear and bright.

We have to make our own connections in this work, and the stretching we do is invigorating. She gives us a stream with rocks in it, and we can go right in, and feel it, or leap from rock to rock, and explore the form. The jump could be from fabric to color to cord to painted shape to electric light to industrial ``refuse'' to construction material. In the end it is all about the connections we make, the pulling together of color, shape, texture, and light, and how the quality of each contributes to the orchestration of the whole. In a funny way these sculptures are like quirky one-man bands, each one has a set of instruments and movements to make its own music.

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