New York

Ann Preston

Barbara Toll Fine Arts

This first New York one-person exhibition by California-based Ann Preston revealed the artist to be a master of the quizzical object. The impulse behind her roundelay of sculpture, paintings, and drawings seems to be the transformation of a limited number of formal motifs, which are first reduced to linear elements and then varied according to the different materials and techniques employed. In this case, two motifs predominated: the eye and the profile. The eye, of course, is sexless, while here the profile is sexed in the feminine; indeed, Preston reduces and refines this basic form until it reads as a seductive combination of gentle curves and protuberant lines. Thus, a thin sculpture of Hydrocal made by joining four identical profiles of noses and lips reads as an abstraction, a graceful, subtle compendium of interlocking arcs (Perfect Profile, 1987), while in another work, Eyeball, 1984, the wire mesh covering a white styrofoam sphere is overlaid with a continuous surface of wiggly eyes. Preston stresses the wizardry of pristine surfaces and odd juxtapositions. The results alternate between essentialism and the dream state.

Preston plays both on the paradoxes revealed through construction and on the constructive value of repetition. Thus, her use of materials yields a range of effects within the same motif, frequently bridging boundaries of time. For example, Marble Eye, 1987, although meticulously produced through mechanical means, has the hieratic presence of a primitive icon. However, the repetition of the motif also determines form, as when duplication of the circular bands shaped through the rotation of the profile yields a dumbbell-like wooden object (Dumbbell, 1987). Here Preston deals with sexual transmutation, changing a feminine motif into a masculine image.

Elsewhere the feminine exerts a strong, almost insistent force. In Fascia, 1987, two sections of honeycomb cardboard, curved and cut to form the “perfect profile,” were installed at the top of two facing walls near the gallery entrance, parodying moldings. These strange, brooding presences functioned like feminine guardians of the space. But Preston’s play with the feminine never announces itself as feminism, and this fundamental equivocation permeated the entire show. The viewer remains unsure of the motivations underlying the wisecrack wizardry of Preston’s work. Indulging in a Surrealist “Why not?,” she seems to avoid the question “Why?”

Kate Linker