Critics’ Picks

View of “Dawn Cerny,” 2017–2018.

View of “Dawn Cerny,” 2017–2018.


Dawn Cerny

Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue
October 28, 2017–February 11, 2018

Dawn Cerny’s recent sculptures rise with the elegance of Chinese scholars’ rocks—contemplatively crannied and eccentric—but the nature they embody is a domestic one. The artist’s wheeled monoliths are enchanting interpretations of household furnishings: bookshelves, credenzas, armchairs. Cerny explores the body’s relationship to furniture as an extension of human movement—particularly that of the parental body, engaged in a continuous stream of repetitive, improvised adaptations. The sculptures’ wonkiness invokes the humor and stickiness of parenting and life in general, which, Cerny suggests, is a lot like vaudeville: The banana peel always wins. Sense and beauty emerge through each day’s absurdities and surprises.

The works declare themselves quickly in bright monochromatic colors: green apple, Aegean sky, and turmeric yellow. Cerny slathers paint over facets of wood, paper, and cardboard, among other materials, a process that results in variably thick, almost fuzzy surfaces that feel plush and approachable. Lerágafrøgmer; our first nice thing together. A fight in Ikea, 2015, reads like a mutating letter sorter or Japanese Netsuke cabinet. At three distinct edges of the movable sculpture, Cerny has left bits of raw wood that suggest handles, inviting interaction and performance. While the work possesses many potentially usable cubbies, closer inspection suggests fragility; the work flips between fanciful utility and porous purposelessness. Blue structure for things and house keys, 2016, sports a raw clay dish for remembering life’s bits and bobs. Each sculpture in the exhibition extends itself into the quotidian with humorous grace. This is work that isn’t too proud to be loved.