Los Angeles

Meg Cranston

Jeffrey Linden Gallery

Assemblage art has proceeded along two lines: the pictorial and the enigmatic. The former developed within the context of painting and sculpture and is exemplified in the works of Schwitters and Rauschenberg. The enigmatic assemblage occurs without such reference; the makers of these objects are, to borrow a line from James Joyce, involved “in a private fantasy of calculation.” Examples exist in non-Western fetishes, many Dada and Surrealist works, and the early works of such artists as George Brecht, Bruce Conner, and William Wiley.

In her first solo exhibition, Meg Cranston continues this line of enigmatic assemblage, with 13 pieces (all from 1988) that occupied the walls, floor, and ceiling of the gallery like stage props in a giant reliquary. Most are assembled from very conventional objects, though sometimes with eccentric variations (wooden shoes, antique crutches, and such). There is some resemblance to the work of the Belgian Surrealist artist Marcel Marien, whose incendiary collages and assemblages involve similar object and language displacement. Yet Cranston’s work emphasizes the whimsical and funky over the dark or satirical. The meaning of Bearded Alphabet, a row of yellow alphabet blocks with black acrylic hair affixed to them, or Play Dumb, a small broken drum with the title inscribed on its head, is essentially elusive, a fanciful subterfuge. “Dumb” could be a pun on “drum,” for instance, but the work resists conventional interpretation.

The enigmatic character of other pieces in the exhibition is more menacing. Everything Is Hidden is a tan blanket on the floor with a large, undisclosed lump in the middle that recalls Man Ray’s Enigma of Isidore Ducasse, 1920. Cranston forsakes the alien monument in the earlier work to achieve something like a domestic tumor. The hidden in Everything Is Hidden is ourselves. The artist has suggested that the tan blanket symbolizes oblivion. One hides under a blanket to avoid things, much as bums hide under blankets and are forgotten.

Albert De Salvo, an assemblage consisting of a pillow screwed to the wall with a garland of flowers fastened around its middle, refers to the man commonly known as the Boston Strangler. During his criminal career, De Salvo adopted three personae. The Measuring Man conned women into believing that their measurements were needed for a fashion industry survey, often coaxing them to be measured without clothes for greater accuracy. The Green Man was a seductive rapist who wore green. As the Strangler, he tied a ribbon around some portion of his victim’s body. De Salvo was, if nothing else, a fetishist. His wife stopped having sex with him after the birth of a daughter with deformed legs. As therapy for the little girl, De Salvo would massage her legs, and would also tie ribbons and flowers around her braces as a sign of affection and tenderness. The innocence and tenderness of the two components of Cranston’s piece (a garland of flowers and a pillow) is lost in the confrontation and violent identification. Indeed, the pillow pinned into this position has the fleshy quality of a female torso.

Yet it is in the realm of humor and irony that Cranston situates most of her work. Inconsolable sums up her approach. It is a stretched piece of satin that the artist has worn out in the center with a brick. The fabric can never be rewoven, just as when you are inconsolable, nothing can make it better.

Robert Dean