Critics’ Picks

View of “Isabel Yellin: Pillowtalk,” 2016.

View of “Isabel Yellin: Pillowtalk,” 2016.

Los Angeles

Isabel Yellin

Skibum MacArthur
1989 Blake Ave
April 24–June 19, 2016

Isabel Yellin’s pillowy sculptures are bulbous, voluptuous, and come in black, white, muted pink, and taupe tones. As they hang by chains and cords from high rafters, their curves are highlighted by the sunlight streaming into the gallery. They look like misshapen punching bags, bringing to mind a rickety gym where a kid might work out her ambitions and anger in secret. But this is no teenager’s lair—if the gallery is an arena, Yellin’s nuanced works put up a formidable fight.

These are physical objects first—defined as much by their materiality as by emotion or narrative. Made of synthetic leatherette filled with expandable foam and stitched together, they are shaped by both intent and circumstances of process, hardened in some parts and yielding in others. Markings and texture on the shiny surfaces suggest that the foam caused stretching and collapse in irregular and unpredictable ways, leaving occasional rough or tender patches across all, but most memorably as on B5 (all works 2016).

Like human bodies, each form here is distinct from the next. They tout their imperfections over uniformity, celebrating vulnerability in an anthropomorphic forum. But there is also life outside this ring; in an antechamber are two works—Shell 1 and Shell 2—that look like they could have been deconstructed, or evolved, from the opaque punching bags. Translucent fabric is stretched over corset boning, letting light filter through, both growing and glowing.