LISA ALLEN: RECENT SCULPTURE
St. Louis Community
College-Forest Park Gallery of Art
A most curious exhibition is housed in the basement of Left Bank Books. Kerry Rose Shear's The Finding of the Origin of Perspective manages to distract the viewer from the shelves of books with some stimulating text of its own, what Shear is calling "illuminated manuscripts." These illuminations are sometimes typed pages from a manuscript -- Shear's work-in-progress with the same title as the exhibition -- that have been invaded with watercolor annotations; sometimes diagrams of Shear's scholarly methodology -- a "metaphorical mountain bike" serves as one "rhetorical strategy"; sometimes faint illustrations; sometimes notes from a spiral notebook with remarks such as "It was in this way -- as a mere instrument of God -- that I became the greatest art historian in the world. Watch me dance!"
The source of all this exuberance is a fresco by the great 14th-century artist Giotto in Florence's Santa Croce Cathedral depicting St. Francis receiving the stigmata of Christ. Giotto is acknowledged as the artist who brought visual perspective into Renaissance painting, but Shear claims that the specific origin of perspective can be located in this one fresco, "Stigmatization." In accompanying texts to the exhibition -- photocopies are provided for anyone to take home for further study -- Shear explains that in her study of perspective, she lost all perspective. She fell into an obsessive love of her subject, which has inspired her to write art theory that reads like melodrama: "Something substantial is at this very moment appearing before you, and you cannot deny its substance." Shear offers quirky tidbits in her prose, such as this list of aesthetic experiences comparable to Giotto: "Latin Masses, Beethoven, Johnny Cash, the Israeli national anthem, the Alhambra, Mahalia Jackson, lilacs for sale on Broadway and Led Zeppelin minus a few songs." Shear compares the five marks of St. Francis' stigmata to Karl, Groucho, Chico, Zeppo and Harpo, and then for those who think this is too far-fetched, she informs that Francis referred to his followers as "the jesters of God."
Shear's "illuminated manuscripts" realize a relationship between image and text that is found too infrequently in image/text art. Her text speaks so fervently of the image that it seems inevitable that it would metamorphose into the other -- and vice versa. Shear forges a union of image and text that is worthy of Blake in its intensity.
And worthy of Blake in regard to obsession as well. Obsessions are usually dull to those watching from the outside -- the singularity of focus can produce a monotony that is horrifying in the extreme. But then there are obsessions that catch exhilarating fire. A sign of sanity is the comic dance the obsessive performs around that fire. Shear possesses that sense of humor about her own work, even as it possesses her.
The designation "obsession" doesn't quite fit with Lisa Allen's sculptures made with soap and bathroom fixtures at the St. Louis Community College-Forest Park Gallery of Art. The exhibition includes minimal wall pieces made with specific brands of soap and paint. "Plunge" features some partly dissolved, broken Coast bars that have seemingly descended to the base of the picture plane, leaving a trail that is pale blue and milky white. Coast is the star of another wall piece, "Each into Nine," 72 used bars arranged with eight bars in nine rows like little blue-white perfumed clouds. Other wall pieces feature Dial, Ivory, Dove and Palmolive, with bars arranged in rows, or paired or dissolved into new shapes, as in "To the Bottom," in which a pair of Dial Clean Green Kids soaps appear like pea pods on a green background.
I suppose there could be a discussion of this work in regards to texture, residue, the pathetic remains of our quest for godliness, but the best I can imagine as a sincere response to it would be "I used to love Coast!"
Allen's more ambitious work consists of three sculptures on the floor, white vinyl bags with chrome bath fixtures and tin pails of soapy water. I liked how the resin of soap congealed in one, making silvery designs in the blue water, but Allen's conceptual/ material focus on soap failed to draw my attention beyond such idle observations. Soft soap, I'm afraid.
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