Sperone Westwater is pleased to present WOOD WORKS: Raw, Cut, Carved, Covered, a diverse exhibition showcasing innovative uses of wood in contemporary art, featuring works by Carla Accardi, Carl Andre, Richard Artschwager, Abraham Cruzvillegas, Kim Dingle, Michele Oka Doner, Rico Gatson, Helmut Lang, Richard Long, Emil Lukas, David Lynch, Katy Moran, Paulo Nazareth, Noah Purifoy, Brent Owens, Tom Sachs, Andrew Sendor, Jean Tinguely, Richard Tuttle and William Wegman.
Wood is one of the oldest and most common materials with a long history that reflects the diversity and evolution of human civilization. A sustainable, structural material, wood has been integral to the development of every culture around the world, used to make ancient ritual objects such as talismans and coffins, prehistoric weaponry and tools for hunting like spears and fishhooks, aspects of rudimentary machinery like wheels and boats, as well as structures for shelter, scaffolding, and home furnishings. In recent years, artists have employed a variety of conceptual and technical approaches to the medium, sometimes choosing wood for its structural properties and other times for its ecological and temporal connotations. Considering the past year’s challenges— the global pandemic and the restructuring of daily life— the transformation of common materials into new forms has become more meaningful than ever.
The exhibition features several works of assemblage constructed from a diverse range of available things, ranging from junk materials to urban debris, found items and simple motors. In the East gallery, Tom Sachs’ epic sculpture The Cabinet (2014) epitomizes the bricoleur’s practice—here, Sachs creates replicas of wooden ConEdison barriers to construct a wall-mounted wunderkammern, filled with hundreds of weapons and tools inscribed with the name of someone who inspired him, referencing celebrities, musicians, and architects such as Le Corbusier, Norman Foster, Buckminster Fuller and Renzo Piano. On the second floor, Richard Tuttle’s Source of Imagery, 1, (Don Giovanni) (1994) draws beauty and poetry out of humble materials, employing painted and raw plywood, a wooden block, plastic tubing, and a bottle brush. Abraham Cruzvillegas’ Untitled (Portable Opener) (2002) uses a cross section of a tree, pointing to what the artist calls “autoconstruction” or self-building—creating through improvisation with whatever materials are at hand. In this case, he mounts a metal John Deere bottle opener on the tree fragment. Conversely, Helmut Lang’s Untitled (2021) consists of a wood panel from which bottle caps were removed, making distinctive imprints on the enamel and resin coating. In Jean Tinguely’s kinetic sculpture, Soleil Noir (1963), light plywood is juxtaposed with a heavy iron plate and electric motorized metal wheel, suggesting the tension that exists between the human hand and technology.
In some cases, these diverse objects carry powerful political connotations. Noah Purifoy, whose Pavilion 1 (1988) is featured on the first floor, dedicated himself to the found object, using art as a tool for social change following the momentous 1965 Watts Riot in South Los Angeles. Making use of debris from the riots, as well as scraps of wicker, fragments of furniture, wooden beads and blocks, Purifoy’s lexicon demonstrates the desire to work with or find beauty in what has been discarded, constructing sculptures part-by-part, taking inspiration from Central African sculpture, Dada, and the history of jazz. In the East gallery, Paulo Nazareth’s Sem titulo, da serie Produtos de Genocidio (2013) places two bottles of bleach and fabric dye inside a resin box atop wood reminiscent of street market stalls. Nazareth’s series Produtos de Genocidio examines products which use names from indigenous cultures. In this case, the use of bleach and dye—to whiten or darken— is a painful reminder of the psychological burdens imposed by institutionalized racism. The violence suggested by these works is recast in Kim Dingle’s Priss (1995), in which two toddlers, pintsize sculptures of the artist and her partner dressed in their Sunday best, run amok in a wooden crib.
Among the classic artists in the show, Richard Long utilizes 285 irregular pieces of wood, gathered from the Quantock Hills in Somerset, England, near his hometown in Bristol, to create Quantock Wood Circle (1981). Carl Andre, by contrast, uses identical elements which stand and hold together by their own mass. In Nixes Mate (1992), Andre utilizes eight Western Red Cedar timbers, measuring 12 x 12 x 36 inches, the standard size for his sculptures of uncarved blocks. Carla Accardi’s Verde (1974) utilizes wooden stretcher bars which remain visible under sicofoil, a pliable and transparent industrial plastic, rather than canvas.
Of the more recent works in the show, Michele Oka Doner’s Totem (2007/2015) again transforms found material—the branches, bark, and roots of a tree—into a totemic sculpture held together by archival wax, suggesting the abstracted form of an ancient caryatid. Such veneration is also present in Rico Gatson’s Throne III (2016), a regal high-back chair meant to memorialize the passing of significant people in the artist’s life. Throne III is emblazoned with vivid geometric ornamentation, using a vibrant Pan-African palate on wood, also present in his abstract Panel Paintings (2014-2021).