NOTE: This review was first printed yesterday on my blog at KUSP.org/exhibitionist...
The 14th floor windows on three sides of the huge, nearly achromatic Don Soker Contemporary Art bring the fog-licked architecture of San Francisco into the gallery space. The space itself is so enchantingly full of itself that at first it seems otherwise empty, though the art of Victoria May hugs the walls, as if camouflaged, or occupies the vast open floor with whispery transparency. Hers is a quiet subversion.
Designed for general use is a very cohesive chapter in the development of this artist’s oeuvre. May’s first exhibit at Soker’s former address earned her a “young artist to watch” blessing from Kenneth Baker, San Francisco Chronicle’s influential critic.
Most memorable in that exhibit were May’s wall pieces of concrete and thread—everyday materials inherently unfriendly to each other—used to create objects so intriguing that they demand the viewer stop to consider the ideas that birthed them. The artist named art povera and Fluxus movements as inspirations, expressing such traditions in the themes and materials with which she constructs her art, incorporating humble found objects and “poor” materials.
In Designed May casts a fond but questioning eye on systems—some detailed to the point of absurdity—we humans have created to order or manage our lives. The works are formally strict, stunningly crafted and thoughtfully consequential although made of cast-offs or of the most humble materials.
Four "Utility Panels" provide all the tools required for jobs like keeping policemen’s shirts tucked in, or applying first aid. Within hanging rectangles of unbleached canvas, May offers equipment for specific tasks, as in #2: for the motor does all the work and the light illuminates the goods in which a mop head is handily wrapped and held in by three slender straps; a cloth-enveloped electrical cord with light bulb hangs carefully coiled from another strap, and tiny snap-pockets undoubtedly enclose the other needed implements for a task of the most mundane. The canvas is pristine, quilted and printed with a floral pattern in places. The precision, reverence, and careful craftsmanship of the piece emphasizes the absurdity of such elaborate organization for such a ordinary purpose. At the same time, so elaborately addressed, the humble materials assume the grandeur of important artifacts. A line of nails sown into a background become handsome objects, exhibiting an existential presence beyond their utilitarian essence. These are nails of consequence.
I am attracted to a series of small wooden panels incised and drawn upon, incorporating attached objects. A trowel is tied down to a base made of warm re-used wood, tied by an excess of thread and pins, as if the tool might break loose in a sudden show of force,
netted like a helpless Gulliver, inspiring curiosity about the unruly behavior that called for such over-imprisonment.
In another panel, Resistance, an old-fashioned electrical cord arches out of the wooden base like a Loch Ness monster, while antique tinsnips and small hardware elements are attached to the surface. In rows below these, May has drawn a complex system of interconnecting lines suggesting an electrical diagram. I thought of my electrical engineer father and Soker, the gallerist, laughed that
many people had had electrical connections. All these panels and others in the room evoke industrious, specialist practitioners in their personal space—a garage, a workroom perhaps. The force of such artwork is experienced close-up where the tactile richness of the work can be appreciated along with its inherent contraditions.
The exhibition ends September 25, I recommend it.
The Exhibitionist is a column in the Santa Cruz Weekly and a blog at KUSP.org/exhibitionist. It is funded in part by the Cultural Council of Santa Cruz County.