Los Angeles

Nancy Dwyer

Meyers/Bloom Gallery

Nancy Dwyer’s recent work—here represented by six sculptures and three paintings—is about the mechanics of public and personal communication, the density and mystery of common words. The works call to mind the way the world speaks to people through advertisements. Dwyer uses the strategy an ad man might employ if it were contemplation his clients were after instead of giggles, seduction, and submission. This exhibition engaged viewers and posed troubling, indirect questions: How about your life? What’s your problem?

Love Life (all works, 1988) is a very large gray painting with gold 3-D-looking letters that spell out the title. The huge metallic letters sleep at the base of the canvas, which is painted a carnal red. The phrase comes at you like a branding iron and sears its ambiguous message onto your brain, appropriate to the all-encompassing and treacherous territory. The steel-gray background looks like a set of vertical I-beams stacked side by side; its segments correspond to the shapes of the monumental letters. And the piece, which looks as if it had been done in lead, reads as a gloomy fallen billboard, something found on a studio backlot: it’s tragic, conspicuous, and heavy. Dwyer makes the closed-off yet constantly visible subject of a love life inescapable.

Dwyer is equally sharp when she is intentionally garish and clumsy, a strategy she uses to articulate vulnerable, dreamy, wish-fulfillment paintings. Something Else, Somewhere Else is the only piece in the show where Dwyer’s physical touch is visible. Two flying fish hover above a yellow, ocher, and orange vortex; the title of the piece is written awkwardly across the side of each fish, making them into cheerful torpedos of hope. In Friends, a large orange acrylic painting, the words “FRIENDS FUCKING ENEMIES FUCKING FRIENDS” are written in seven rows; they run across and off the surface, as if to infinity. The painting states its case regarding the proximity of love and hate; it works because it is blaring and heartfelt, specific to the pitfalls of being human. Friends also brings up the social intrigues of the art world and its little professional wars. This flip-flopping of meaning occurs in all of Dwyer’s work.

The strangest piece in the show is World View. Four 30-inch-high stainless steel letterforms stand two feet apart, creating a square: they look like double models of the World Trade Center. A beach ball (as a globe, or divine distraction) rests between the four columns, which read like giant compass directions: N-T-N-W. With the use of the ball as the letter O, the phrase “NOT NOW” is created. Accepting the goofy beach ball as a useful linguistic form, together with the corporal-looking steel letters, leads one to believe, as Schiller pointed out, that “man is wholly himself only when he plays.” On the other hand, “NOT NOW” is a command to quit playing around. It implies that escapism—retreat into play—is a way of shirking serious responsibility. World View is precarious and whimsical, positively surreal.

Each piece appears hermetic at first, sealed shut in a tight logo façade. But messages from the work slip out and lower a poignant boom. There is something provocative and exact in each piece, and the overall execution is scrupulously thought through. These works are advertisements for states of being, austere monoliths of emotion. Dwyer proves how inescapable, cumbersome, and strange words can be; how words make provocative pictures, and have the capacity to evoke conflicting worlds.

Benjamin Weissman