New York

Stephanie Brody Lederman

Nassau County Museum of Fine Arts

As a narrative artist, Stephanie Brody Lederman received a unique opportunity to voice her point of view when her one-person show at Nassau County Museum of Fine Arts became a political event. Owing to recent county appointments, the management of the Roslyn-based museum changed hands as her show went up, removing a highly innovative and competent director and curator and replacing them with political appointees of dubious artistic credentials. It was a sudden and shaking upheaval, unwanted and unwarranted at best, irreplaceably damaging to the future of an increasingly fine museum. On a Sunday afternoon Lederman’s opening took place, and fittingly, among the Long Guileland Stories there hung a parable of changing housekeepers at the art-house. The thinly disguised narrative lamented the changing of the guard with acid wit, calling into question the appropriateness of political gifting: “It is sacrilege to make an art-house the spoils.”

Monday afternoon the museum was closed down, finally and irretrievably. Whether or not Lederman’s statements were instrumental to the new director’s decision to brave the storm by bailing out is unknown. Suffice it to say that the administration reacted to threat by further administrative maneuvering (citing fire code violations to shut the building) and the artist reacted in the way of the artist; translating her personal outrage to communication through her art. In Lederman’s case verbal agility goes hand in hand with visual skill, so the piece in question will endure as a valid work even after the events that precipitated it are gone.

As in all the pieces, text and picture are presented with childlike crudeness; lettered in blocks, the written image is counterbalanced by the “illustration” for each piece. As a whole, the crudeness is again reinforced in the surface treatment of the paper. Rubbed with acrylics and/or chalk, the paper becomes roughened, thick and texturized in various pastels. Lederman is one of the few who organize the paper as a total piece, text interspersed logically with picture according to the particular pattern of each piece. Her “Cheri Tree” series employs a starkly divided paper with minimal text; Zoë’s Paradise, concerned with an ebullience of youth-remembered images, scatters words and pictures across the paper with more casual abandon.

Similarly, colors as symbols and words as puns are intertwined throughout, so continual cross-references are made. Stating that “trees are easier to deal with than people” since they easily handle acceptance and rejection, the cherry-tree pictures go on to depict a progression of trees in full bloom to trees barren of leaf and flower. As sexual metaphors the blossoms turn from blushing shy pinks to fiery scarlets, increasing in hue with the passion of the memory documented in each text. Later references speak directly of pink as a metaphor for romance and sex, mixing in white proportionately to innocence in each picture. Phrases like “please I want you to sit on my lap” appear with disconcerting directness—coupled with a seemingly childlike handwriting but a heavily sexual connotation repeated in the drawing.

Speaking strictly visually, the series is tightly conceived as variations on a half-canvas; sky with tree above, text (or footnote) on gridded or shaded half below. At times the written text conforms to the lines or grid beneath it, so the text appears as a block of pictorial composition; at other times the words are lined sparsely, emphatically, punctuated as much with their own placement as with their content. Footnote For I Smiled places the smallest tree of the series dead center in its half, underlines it and draws it closed and self-contained, unlike the wildly flowering trees before. The text, smugly detached as well, primly details the blooming schedule of the tree and ends with a list of related words: grace, space, snap, shot—making reference back to Will We Look at Snapshots of Weddings—a minimal text yet bitterly reminiscent in the context of the other statements: “the blooming was too strong.” Through such juxtaposition, the vagueness and passivity of the text (in this case) reveals a withdrawal from strong emotion.

Through such personal poetry and punning metaphors, the stories continue to express incidents real or fantasized; Zoë’s Paradise, the paean to childhood matinees at Loews Theatre, issues a metaphorical warning in retrospect (“watch . . . watch . . . watch . . .; do not be late for your life”) with the consistent tone of the pieces—tongue-in-cheek nostalgia.

In all the pieces, Lederman directly relates text and picture, revealing a thinking/perceiving process that is particularly cohesive. Her Postcard from Long Island, for instance, sends explanatory greetings from Long Island Sound with a picture of three triangles (sails?) related by three short straight lines. Words explain this blueprint of her perception (paraphrasing): “When sailing I watch the line where the water meets the sky, where the water meets the shore, where the sail meets the water.” Three direct pieces of information convey a sense of completed observation, relating only essentials, eliminating nothing of the experience.

Most satisfying and refreshing of all is what Lederman is content to leave out of her narrative—the self-indulgent, long-winded diaries that women’s narrative often succumbs to. Her pieces zero in on a moment of thought to be conveyed and concentrate on that single thought with an ability to perceive the essential information of each situation. Tempered with a personal point of view, Lederman’s stories and admonishments are never boring; visual entertainment abounds in her drawing as allusion pervades the text, leaving little excuse for missing the point.

Deborah Perlberg