There's a dubious trend in contemporary art in North America right now that seems to be flying under the radar, likely due to its pleasant appeal and harmlessly inoffensive nature. It's typically a combination of two seemingly nice things: nostalgia and sentiment.
This three-person show at Daniel Faria gallery is an example of a sentimental rehashing of modernist sensibilities, and it succeeds on certain levels, in that it looks just like art we know and love. On those same levels it fails.
An Te Liu's larger sculptures are attractive, and were you not to know the context in which they were shown, could easily be mistaken as either Barbara Hepworth sculptures or extracted and magnified elements of a work by Louise Nevelson. The primary problem inherent in this work is that it looks so painfully familiar. These sculptures look convincingly like sculptures we've seen and come to accept. Which leads to the secondary problem with new art steeped in nostalgia: safety. When artists start to make work, admittedly or unconsciously that's built around the work of an artist already accepted in the canon of art history, they're abandoning both an attempt at originality, as well as creating a safety net that will prevent them from failing miserably. It's a toe in the water approach to art-making that avoids one ever getting wet.
An Te Liu, Hard Edge Kawaii Subtraction no. 2, 2014, Cast plaster with pigmented wax, 9 ½ x 12 ½ x 9½.; Courtesy of Daniel Faria Gallery.
Liu's works that don't resemble modernist sculpture, instead, resemble artefacts, unnamed Hellenic earthenware – a piece from the Metropolitan Museum of Art seemingly on the defense against criticism via a broad archeological and historical feel. As is explained in the text, “An Te Liu’s works are ambiguous artifacts that appear ancient and anthropomorphic”; we're then told that the reason it's something to take notice of is that they are made of contemporary packaging materials, and are also aware of their status as being “reconfigured into objects that are simultaneously pre-historic, mid-century and futuristic”. So what then is there left for them to do as works of art aware of their antecedents, their appearance, and their signification?
Iris Häussler's sculptures made of beeswax are created by holes dug into the ground. There's an element of chance and submission to gravity that has life and is able to offer a fairly large sense of private experience with the work. However, Häussler's works are both unremarkable and satisfying in their ability to look like sculptures. Despite their material of beeswax and plant residue, their sculptural form is comfortingly familiar.
An Te Liu, Gnomon, 2014, Cast Bronze, 6.2 x 72 x 6.4”; Courtesy of Daniel Faria Gallery
The saving grace of the show is the sculpture work of Jennifer Rose Sciarrino. Heavy slabs of concrete laying flat are deeply cut with delicate lines. They suggest verticality but are shown on their backs, to be viewed from above. The element of chance involved with Sciarrino's work as it involves lines cut from shadows offers the same aspect of Häussler's work that is satisfying. It creates a tension and dynamism that's otherwise lacking in a gallery full of things you feel you've seen before.
(Image on top: Jennifer Rose Sciarrino, North Facing on December 21st II, 2013, Concrete, 11 x 11 x 4; Courtesy of Daniel Faria Gallery.)