Sunday, October 31, 2010

Just Seen and Dashed Off - Petah Coyne

Everything That Rises Must Converge, the title of a Flannery O'Connor short story is also the title of Petah Coyne's current exhibition at MASS MoCA. In the institution's typically large and far from pristine galleries Coyne's sculpture shines, rivets, and may make you feel uncomfortable. And that is good. You should feel that way.

I was first introduced to Petah Coyne in 1996 when i worked at the Corcoran Gallery of Art where Terrie Sultan organized a fantastic one-gallery show of Coyne's sculptures and i had the opportunity to do a studio visit with the artist. I have been following her work ever since and could not pass up this chance to see so much of her work in one place.

The MASS MoCA exhibition assembles sculptures and photographs of the last two decades. I will focus here exclusively on the sculpture. Some of Coyne's early pieces that are suspended from the ceiling are made of materials as varied as black sand, chicken-wire, steel, cotton muslin, and mud, just to name a few components. These large black forms vaguely suggest an anatomical heart, a whirl of movement, or the gravity of emotions respectively.

The thoroughly haunting Untitled #720 (Eguchi's Ghost) was inspired by the protagonist in a story by Yasunari Kawabata. Suspended in mid-air and roughly following the contours of a seated body, the sculpture appears animated, filled with a living presence, yet devoid of life at the same time. The medium corroborates the work's mystery - what looks like greysilver horsehair is in fact a shredded aluminum airstream trailer.

But the tour de force of this installation is a large gallery containing work inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. Like a swampy aviary, a multitude of taxidermied pheasants, peacocks, ducks, and one bobcat, are engulfed by black velvet and dark silkflowers dripping with black wax. In impossibly dramatic poses, they rip at our hearts and strain to inspire empathy, even if they are now only lifeless simulacra. These works state most forcefully, and admittedly not too subtly, what has activated Coyne's work over the decades. The danger of beauty. Its closeness to abjection, and the corollary play between repulsion and desire. She is in effect aiming to define her own sense of the sublime with all its associated terrors and joys.

Petah Coyne: Everything That Rises Must Converge is on view until April 11, 2011 - MASS MoCA, 1040 MASS MoCA Way, North Adams, MA -

1 comment:

  1. i just saw this exhibit today. It was haunting, lovely and strange. Thanks for the post.