Wasserman Projects Presents Summer Wheat, Hirosuke Yabe, and Matthew Bennett Laurents
A warehouse-gallery bristling with whacky lines and florid color, the current Wasserman Projects exhibition is testament to the wonderful volatility of contemporary artistic production. Featuring the inventive paintings and sculpture of Oklahoma City native artist Summer Wheat and complimented by the exuberant, folk-like sculpture and installations of Japanese artist Hirosuke Yabe, both of whose work employ crafty processes to achieve a singularly, spectacular visual presence. And while their playfully beguiling surfaces shimmer with graphic energy both artist’s work limn deep political and economic issues.
To achieve the magical inlaid surfaces of her paintings, resembling the high craft marquetry of Renaissance cabinetry, Wheat squeegees paint through aluminum screen that serves as her warp and weft structure, to create stunning, flat biomorphic shapes of women, engaged in inscrutable activities. Like the Medieval and Renaissance tapestries that inspired them, Wheat’s paintings read as allegories that engage themes of historical, moral and religious importance. And like the stories in those tapestries, they are belied by the stunning surface that composes them.
Embedded in the flat, Picassoan/Matissean, cubist arrangement of colored puzzle pieces, Wheat’s narratives turn on money and women. The center piece of her exhibition is “Picnic with Coins,”2019, a triumphant play on the history of picnic painting. Lounging about, a group of intertwined women whose central preoccupation seems to be the bags of coin instead of sensuous human relationships and picnic baskets. Not the harem of Matisse’s “Joy of Life,” if there is anything joyfully erotic it is bodily connection to collections of dollars and coins that decorate the landscape. The surface of the flat paintings is detailed with a novel, raised relief of cake decorator-like, squiggled drawings and loose grids of paint.
Using the same intriguing squeegee process, Wheat’s painting, “Piggy Bank Version ll,” 2019, has a profile of a piggy bank which ironically, like a Grecian urn, is festooned with female figures in various poses, “embracing” (seducing?) the piggy bank. The symbolic piggy bank contains coins decorated with female figures and female figures that seem to have managed to gain entrance to the bank. Art historical references are inscribed throughout her drawing including Egyptian-like figures such as in the remarkable domestic image, “Coin cart,” 2019, of a stylized Egyptian female figure wearing harem pants, pushing a grocery cart burdened with a large coin imprinted with a female head. Wheat’s parody of our social landscape functions by symbols and irony and requires a certain acrobatic, visual literacy to unpack, but is rewarding in its astute payoff. The sharp edged, cartoony drawing and over-the-top, dazzling color palette are worth the price of admission themselves.
Like Wheat, Hirosuke Yabe’s large installations and scores of small wood sculptural works are teeming with a sort of shanty-town aesthetic in their jury-rigged construction methods but belie adroit hands and keen craftsmanship. The small wooden heads and full animated figures are sculpted with a nata, a small traditional Japanese woodsman hatchet, that renders an incised angular cut into the wood, not unlike Wheat’s own crosshatching in her paintings, giving a consistent look and feel to his cast of characters. One senses a rich history in the form and mark that the nata hatchet makes in sculpting the heads.
The center piece of Yabe’s work are three large sculptural installations that function as an anchor for his whole body of work, including the heads and animated anthropomorphic pieces. Composed of repurposed wood salvaged in Detroit, “Old Dog Man,” 2019, and “Young Dog Man,” 2019, are abstracted, geometrical dog figures, instrumental in an allegorical narrative that belong to the large shack-like, “House of Consumption,” 2019, (perhaps a dog house). All three sculptures are animated by small whirligigs attached to the body of the dogs, including a beautiful ceiling fan in the house, operated by small electric motors. The whirligigs are brilliant in giving life, a kind of Rube Goldberg, kinetic life, to the dog-like sculptures, that symbolize the rudimentary instinct for consumption. (Think Labrador Retriever eating dinner!)
Accompanied by the small sculpted heads, each of which gives expression to the emotional range—from ghoulish to angelic– of human psychology, Yabe’s overall installation reads like a parody of the human landscape. There is story book quality to his work that is tempts us to read it like moral tale. Yabe’s “crudely” (yet elegantly) hacked and chopped forms of bodies and heads, and faces, are take offs on classical modernist forms from surrealism to African masks and totemic poles. The whole of the Wasserman Projects’ warehouse space is alive with a population of faces and bodies and composed of a brilliant array of lines and colors, a testimony to the, as usual, smart curatorial job led by Alison Wong. Part of the joy of this latest iteration of the Wasserman Projects is to explore the helter-skelter shapes and forms and mark-making of all three of the artist’s work that makes up this delightful wilderness of art.
To compliment the duo of artists in the front room gallery, in the rear gallery are a range of ceramic vessels wrought by Portland Oregon artist and Cranbrook Art Academy grad, Matthew Bennett Laurents. Adding to the limitless possibility of human expression that the exhibition already displays, Laurents’s vessels contain faces exuding archetypal human emotion or conditions of life. His faces, especially, add to the forest of lines and surfaces that inhabit this fine exhibition.
Wasserman Projects Presents Summer Wheat, Hirosuke Yabe, and Matthew Bennett Laurents through December 21, 2019