Critics’ Picks

Still Life with Logotype, 2007, wood scraps, latex paint, cardboard, screws, and wood glue, 12 x 16 x 2 1/2".

New York

Donelle Woolford

619 West 27th Street
January 10–February 16, 2008

The ragpicker, Baudelaire tells us, is a poet well versed in waste and apt to discover in refuse a city’s discarded riches. This penchant for transforming castoffs can also be found in the figure of Donelle Woolford, who collects leftovers from the floor of the New Haven lumber-reclamation plant where she rents studio space. She takes these scraps—roughly hewn, splintered, variously textured, half-painted—and arranges them with glue and ingenuity into dense, planar compositions that in their forms, effects, and even titles allude to the Cubist paintings of Pablo Picasso and George Braque. There is an offhand beauty and deflating humor to rehashing those refined paintings as untutored wood-block collages, particularly in 2008, Cubism’s centennial year.

The work’s charm, however, is somewhat attenuated by the claims Woolford makes on its behalf. Her assertion that her practice reactivates Cubism’s origins in African sculpture by virtue of her race is evident only in press materials, and nowhere in the work itself. As a result, the argument feels strained, as reductive an invocation of identity as it is an understanding of Cubism’s influences. In fairness to Woolford, this flailing for relevance through art-historical reference might be attributed to her training. (A studio in “New Haven” is as much a geographical location as it is a winking reference to her institutional affiliation.) Woolford’s near-manic repetition of her own signature in the works Endorsements and Still Life with Logotype (both 2007) suggests that she has thoroughly assimilated her lessons in branding, in this case through a convenient elision of style and subject position. One wishes Woolford had learned more during her time as an assistant to Joe Scanlan, whose own multifarious projects have so incisively played with authorship, the commodification of creativity, and art’s relation to commerce—oddly enough, all issues that Woolford’s fledgling practice brings to the fore, however inadvertently.