While recently attempting to flee the quiet madness of the gray winter for the sunnier climes of Palm Springs, I bumped into artist Sheila Klein at the airport. She was just in from New York, having returned from the final stage of proposals for a public commission across from Grand Central Station. Among the finalists was Vito Acconci, and although neither of them won the project, Klein effused about her trip east and the new connections she was making—with the Jewish Museum in New York, the Mattress Factory in Pittsburgh, with a raft of curators and writers outside of the Northwest.
Looking at the deeper ways that art or really any human construction can influence us, we realize that all objects and persons have their own fields of affect, and that one can blend or react affects with one another. Works like Vermonica, 1993, use objects to chart human history and betray deeper threads of change and growth in our environment. A line of street-lights forms a timeline of LA—chronicling the changes from ornate wrought-iron lamps to sleek cobraheads. Named after the intersection of Vermont and Santa Monica on which it sits, the piece remains a source of intrigue to the public. While the piece is not overtly political, it isn't hard to extract conflict, adaptation, and trends of taste (what could be more political than the aesthetics of public utilities?) from the simple chronology of streetlights. Her works are often deconstructive, but only insofar as they understand the compliment of destruction to creation.
This is particularly evident in Show and Hide, 2002, at the Mead Building in Portland, Oregon. A set of five motorized pairs of curtains open and close, revealing different layers to passing shoppers and observers outside, and a staccato slice of street to those looking out. While your experience of the piece is entirely different when viewed from inside or out, the affect is the same in both cases: a constant flurry of color and movement, like the visual spasms of a chameleon, play with your perception and force a recognition of how change can hide its own constancy. From within Show and Hide cannot reveal constancy, only the bustle and motion of the street, while from the outside it makes the entire facade shifting and unstable, the layers parting and closing like mirages.
In talking about her birth as an artist, Klein often cites her first piece from grade school, when she learned to erase pencil marks on her tests with the soles of her rubber shoes. She was caught, but the performance was a success. Her career is not necessarily one of meteoric rise, but she’s a vibrant and still-practicing artist who retains national relevancy and a strong body of discrete work in and out of the gallery, a unique example of an artist who can sustain and endure, to nurture a career over time.