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“Registry”— the title of Betsy Odom’s solo exhibition at threewalls—plays on the ubiquitous ritual of engaged couples amassing a wish list for their pending nuptial union. Usual registry items like table linens and a Kitchen-Aid Mix Master are replaced by tooled leather gym shorts and a lead canteen in Ms. Odom’s registry, indicating recurrent themes throughout the artist’s work. The thirty-two piece inventory reads like a contemporary women’s studies survey as Odom investigates the traditions of craft and its relation to social attitudes about gender and society. Operating under the guise of this societal practice allows Odom a platform to investigate issues of sexuality and identity, raising a critical awareness of the history and meaning of material. “Registry” is as much a chronicle of craft as it is a visual biography.
Installation view of Betsy Odom's "Registry" at threewalls. 2011. Image courtesy of threewalls.
As threewalls states, “Betsy Odom mines a vast array of materials and techniques” and the result is an exhibition of deft skill and suggestive implications. The main space of the gallery is populated by a U-shaped display of Ms. Odom’s objects with titles like Bend It, Sex Wax Cat Crap and B.P.A. my A.S.S. This environment creates a fantastical and ironic corpus, demonstrating the artist’s ability to temper quantity with quality and wry humor with poignant critique. In a talk held at threewalls on May 26th, Odom described herself as a matchmaker of material, non-conventionally pairing disparate masculine and feminine components with traditional craft techniques. In mixing leather tooling with sewing and sculpture, Odom explained that it permits a revelation of the tacit gender hidden within these processes. Ms. Odom’s hope for the exhibition is to give a sense of androgyny and avoid any typecasting for style or material. This approach allows her to confront and subvert assumed typecasting in our own society, but with "Registry," the “different labels of meaning are able to step out.”
Doc, an intricately leathered-tooled maquette of a Doc Marten boot is not just an archaic fashion object from the 1990s. Simultaneously, it represents the tough masculine functionality of a boot and its significant role in lesbian culture. A cast ceramic cucumber adorned with latex balloons is aptly titled Happy Anniversary and alludes to the object’s dual functions in both the kitchen and the bedroom.
Betsy Odom. Varmint. 2011. Ceramic, marten stole, ribbon. Image courtesy of threewalls.
Varmint, above, entwines a luxurious ermine stole with a ceramic biker’s handkerchief, evincing Odom’s skill in playfully breaking down stereotypes of with her craft. Despite the puns and varied techniques, Odom upholds the inherent nature of each material. Her decisions are not arbitrary, but distinctly and specifically engineered to utilize sensory impact and challenge confirmative thought.
Betsy Odom. I Think This Is Yours. 2009. Carved cork. Image courtesy of the artist and Jean Albano Gallery.
When I first saw Betsy’s Odom’s work I was struck by the authenticity of material and sardonic wit. Part of a group show at Jean Albano Gallery in 2010, I Think This Is Yours was an exceptionally carved cork sweatshirt, positioned at the center of the gallery’s floor. The aim of that exhibition (titled “New Wave”) was to bring new work by emerging artists to the River North gallery district and Chicago’s art audience. Having recently graduated from Yale’s Master of Fine Arts program, Odom was selected to represent the female contingent for the show. In the last year, Ms. Odom has participated in a number of group and solo exhibitions, but none have offered the provocative and personal approach presented at threewalls.
“Registry” is on view through June 19th, the same closing date as Odom’s concurrent exhibition at the Hyde Park Art Center (HPAC). HPAC’s “Sis Boom Bah” centers on the artist’s sports-themed work with a more “PG” feel, but in both exhibitions Odom reveals the pride in her craft as well as appreciation for the culture embodied in her work. Ms. Odom admitted in her talk that, “Object making is a tricky thing to do these days,” but to me it seems that she is a master at her craft.
--Robyn Farrell Roulo, ArtSlant Staff Writer