New York

Harmony Hammond, Sarah Draney, Patsy Norvell, Jenny Snider and Louise Fishman

If feminism is a consideration in assessing Golden’s work, it is because she deals explicitly with sex. In contrast, to discuss the group show at the Nancy Hoffman Gallery—labeled “a women’s group”—in terms of feminism would be to create artificially separate standards for women’s art. The artists represented are primarily involved with issues raised by other art. None of them, not even Harmony Hammond with her braided rugs, a traditional woman’s craft, seriously questions, “What does it mean to be a woman? Is my perspective different as a woman?” Not that I am advocating this approach for all female artists—it’s just the only valid criterion I can see for titling a show “a women’s group,” or have you seen “a men’s group” lately? Furthermore the term “women’s group” becomes derogatory in light of the poor quality of the work chosen for this exhibition.

To begin with, Harmony Hammond’s gaily colored floor pieces are too small and decorative to read as anything more than the rugs which, in fact, they are. They represent yet another example of the current tendency to blur distinctions between avant-garde art and crafts, a trend highlighted by the recent exposition of Olga de Amaral’s woven sculpture at the André Emmerich Gallery. Although it is true that crafts do belong in the larger category of art, their emphasis on skill and the purely decorative distinguishes them from serious art, which is primarily involved with perceptual and philosophical ideas. Because of this, the demands one makes of crafts and serious art differ. Crafts need only try to be pleasingly ornamental; serious painting and sculpture, in my opinion, must attempt to touch the mind, not just the senses, to affect one’s thinking or feeling—adding in some way to one’s knowledge. Hammond’s rugs don’t even try to extend one’s awareness of art; they seem to be involved with design and craftsmanship, problems of related decorative art like furniture.

Sarah Draney’s sticks entwined with pink threads and mounted on the wall also tend toward crafts due to the small size as well as the pretty materials. While her wall pieces, composed of horizontal rows of string sporting broken sticks painted in festive acrylic colors, inevitably refer to stripe paintings, basically they seem only to use established or readily accessible ideas as a framework for decoration.

If Draney is obsessed with sticks as an art material, Patsy Norvell’s fetish is hair. Norvell’s work calls to mind Clement Greenberg’s condemnation of the “far out” as end in itself, as she chooses an unusual art material (hair) and then slots it into cliché formats merely to create the “shock of the new.” Her poorly drawn, elementary-school landscapes exist only to amaze one that hair can make pictures. It seems to me that in choosing materials, the artist must consider the best means for expressing his or her ideas. If the material per se is of tantamount importance, as seems to be true in Norvell’s case, then it should be used honestly—as itself. The only piece of hers which approaches this end is five horizontal bands of tape, each with a thin inner stripe of hair, from which bands hang locks of hair left to follow their natural curl. Even if the format is unoriginal, at least here the hair is given a chance to function as hair without being contorted to fit a trite, artificially decorative motif as in the other works on display.

Most of the works in the exhibition are relatively little in size. As mentioned above, their smallness diminishes both Hammond’s and Draney’s pieces. Jenny Snider’s unimaginative imitations of children’s stick figure sculpture and her scrawls of dancing figures moving across horizontal strips of canvas are further trivialized by their minuteness. But it is Louise Fishman’s work that suffers most from its diminutive size. She paints oil or acrylic tondos of de Kooning-derived landscapes, where the gestural handling and stumbled paint are stifled by the tiny size—they have no room to expand, to breathe. The gestures themselves are too little to be aggressive, being mere flicks of the wrist, and thus become tentative, insignificant marks. Even the muddy colors mixed from leftover colors on the artist’s palette, are enfeebled by the ultraesthetic stance engendered by the smallness of the paintings, which become precious objects.

Susan Heinemann