New York

Alan Shields

Eccentric art has generally existed outside of the mainstream of art. It has not often dealt with abstract formal issues, has been too involuted to inspire direct genealogies, and lacks a kind of cultural universality. It is difficult however to draw a sharp boundary between art that is extremely subjective and the recognizable qualities in the work of artists using more accessible forms. The term “eccentric” may be used in reference to the obsessive treatment of peculiar shapes, signs, and images.The strength of some eccentric art seems to come from its ability to make its obsessions compelling to the viewer.

Many artists today seem to be working in modes between the strictly formal and the funky. While this work may be discussed in available critical vocabularies, the expressive intentions of the art often require a discussion of psychological states, states of being, and mythology, etc., as the subject or method of procedure.

Alan Shields’ show at Paula Cooper looks like a seductive bazaar or a shamanistic ritual of color and movement on the floors, walls and ceiling. His work seems to be trying to destroy all barriers between life and art—the activity of his art-making has become inseparable from the craft of living. Painting with materials as well as pigments, he transfigures cloth, beads, yarn, and canvas into a fetishistic dazzle of toys, totems, wall hangings, rugs and sculpture. The psychedelic pattern and design in the work as well as the total effect indicates a desire to defeat formal organization and convention—there are no clearly unified forms or prevailing hierarchies of shape, nor is there a sharp differentiation between individual objects. The ultra-energetic quality of the exhibition risks self-parody, particularly in the small room filled with small objects like clothespins, mop heads, straw bundles, and clusters of beads. The show is reminiscent of Oldenburg’s store, where, the customer is constantly diverted from one display to another. While the proliferation of sensuous material is at first awesome, it soon gluts one’s vision and becomes an overall scribble. Vision requires some hierarchy of form in order to perceive shapes beyond chaos. Shields seems to have exercised no choice or discrimination. Except for the hanging sculptures, which are based on more rigorous premises of form and material, the pieces are lost in the shuffle. But since the objects may be sold independently, Shields does not seem committed to a completely environmental strategy. If the intention is to allow the customer to purchase a bit of memorabilia, art becomes entertainment.

Lizzie Borden