RACHEL PERRY WELTY @ YANCEY RICHARDSON GALLERY, NYC
Rachel Perry Welty’s one-person exhibition at Yancey Richardson leaves one conflicted. The show is polite, even seemingly sweet, and while this should perhaps be read as a pejorative, politeness can be fascinating within an oft-abject culture. To further complicate the work, both the means and the overt meaning of this show are arguably puerile. However, in the puerility is an undercurrent of mood, and this is the heart of the matter, if one will dare to conjure the heart.
On view is the sentence, “You May Already Be A Winner,” crafted in cursive script from a roll of Aluminum foil. There is a Lucite display rack with Styrofoam takeout containers arranged in rows; the lids have been doodled on to resemble, for a millisecond, Delft pottery. There are Barbie-sized shopping bags with the logos of top shelf clothing designers, a mussed jigsaw puzzle of the twin towers, a video of the artist lip-synching to wrong number calls, a thought-bubble shaped mirror, and several drawings made by thinly slicing produce stickers to create loopy lines.
The work is peppered with ambiguities. The exhibition entices consideration of the clichés and caricatures of femininity through the stuff of shopping, cooking and primping. This gives the show a weird, retrograde vibe, prompting the question, ‘What does neo-feminist art look like?’ The show has heavy ecological overtones. It points at commerce. It points again at commerce gone awry.
What do these myriad threads and the various means of making objects add up to? The worst-case scenario would suggest this is a hesitant, careful show that is driving issues into a corner. There are plenty of ideas, but not much in the way of exploratory art making. On the other hand, we might experience these diverse objects as something like visual haikus.
So how is a bite-sized shopping bag or some tinfoil like a haiku? They are compact, gossamer and contemplative moments that slow us down. In experiencing Welty’s show one becomes aware that any of its components could easily be crushed with a slight grip or simply blown away in a light breeze. However, the work does not carry an overly delicate aesthetic, so delicacy comes first as a surprise, and then as an awakening: those overwrought issues mentioned above, we bring to the work. Those clichés? Those are our clichés reflected.
Are the heavy-handed issues themselves delicate? Welty’s work is subtractive and leaves much bare. To understand how stark her work is, consider this show in comparison to the materialistically similar work of Sarah Sze whose little universes of refuse spill forth in all directions. Welty’s show is infinitely quieter. These objects make little disturbance in the space. Ideas float with minimal ripple.
The nature of art is to have an internal logic, and the material that art is made from carries its own meaning – perhaps to the frustration of the artist, or the viewer, who look for a settling of meaning. With this said, the topical aspects of this show may be dubious, but the material is doing something. This exhibition seems to place objects of near nothingness in hand, testing the impulse to destroy. Move carefully, the whole thing will come crashing down.
“Rachel Perry Welty: You May Already Be A Winner” is on view February 12 – March 28, 2009 at Yancey Richardson Gallery.
All images are courtesy of the artist and Yancey Richardson Gallery.