New York

Rebecca Smith

Mary Delahoyd

Rebecca Smith makes intelligent little objects of wood and plywood—sometimes with found barn wood and tree wood—painted with obscure designs that are lightheartedly irrational. The works are like catchy little tunes that seem inconsequential but stay with you, implying they’ve touched some nerve, spontaneously echoed some nuance of unconscious process. I regard her work as a lively example of what can be called the new whimsicality, which seems pervasive in much art today Her works can be regarded as fanciful toys, the kind one used to hand-make before one discovered the manufactured version—before one’s vision of playful objects became prematurely sophisticated (spoiled). Smith’s work, with its teasing look of being casually tossed together, and its touches of rawness and awkwardness, playfully reconstructs the sincere in art, which today seems unconvincing unless presented with a certain impishness.

Smith offers us works that are both sculptural relief and sculpture in the round. One side does not let you pre-diet the other side. One’s surprise upon going around the sculptures—all are placed on pedestal supports—is complete. One can then begin to reflect on the intricate, dialectical relationship between the two physically opposite, but spiritually unopposing, faces of the sculpture. Smith’s work thus offers intellectual as well as physical surprise. In Loops, 1986, for example, the two-toned orange diamond projecting above the long green rectangle, and painted with a “touchy” black loop emerging from the “organic” turquoise divide between the orange tones, hardly prepares us for the family of free-floating liver-shaped pink and gray loops on the work’s other side, where an untied “big daddy” orange loop interacts with a “big mommy” turquoise and white loop. It’s all very sexual, just as the relationship between the sides is bizarrely copulative.

This kind of abstract fun recapitulates the primitivist intentions of some pioneering abstract art, but in a genuinely humorous, engaging way. I really don’t know if this work is faux naïf or truly ingenuous, but it is principled in its naivete, which makes it high art, if not so high as to be beyond us. It is refreshing to have abstraction without transcendental pretensions, and with a serious whimsicality that seems like a small miracle. It may be that Smith’s “puerility” is more polished than I care to admit, but then, it’s the madcap puerility I want, not the polish.

Donald Kuspit