Los Angeles

Ann Preston

Pence Gallery

Ann Preston’s recent work continues her ongoing deconstruction of the so-called transcendental, non-representational artwork into a repetitive series of contingent and rhetorical figurative motifs. In this case, the contingency is based upon a corporeal consciousness instilled by the Creation Myth. By titling her installation of wall- and free-standing sculptures “In His Image,” Preston simultaneously underlines and questions the predominant patriarchal ideology not only of representational encoding itself, but perceptual experience as a whole. Preston’s lowest common (signifying) denominator is the perfected profile, a contrived construction of arcs and circles designed to suggest the beatific aura of historical religious iconography. This acts as both an overt and concealed presence in the disclosure of reified meaning and origins.

In Large Capital Fire, 1988, for example, Preston uses curved and contoured honeycomb cardboard as the framework for a fiberglass- and copper-coated object. At first glance, it resembles a cross between a gigantic chess piece, a candlestick holder, and a Eucharist chalice resting upon a curvaceous base. The negative space of the work’s contours actually inscribe the profile of a face. But Preston is less concerned with exploring a positive/negative spatial dialectic than reinforcing the figurative trace as both origin and end of signifying language as a whole. For Preston, all creative endeavor is inextricably contingent upon the supplemental vagaries of language, and becomes a matter of acculturated faith rather than unquestioned truth.

That such faith lies at the root of a prevailing ideology based on wealth and privilege is illustrated by Pendants, 1988. Here Preston suspends three velvet-colored circular profiles from metal wall brackets, so that their “heads” project into the gallery space like a decapitated Holy Trinity. The sensuousness of the velvet, with its suggestion of opulence, is rein-forced by the velvet tassels that dangle from the bottom of each head, conjuring up images of extravagant bell-pulls in aristocratic bedrooms.

Such dabbling in Baroque caricature tends to drive home conceptual points with less than subtle irony. Preston is far more successful when her objects retain a sense of estrangement; paradoxically, once they are decoded the objects again lull the viewer into the perceptual bliss of closure. The wall piece In His Image, 1988, for example, consists of 39 cast tiles that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle to create an undulating, rippling terrain of rosettes and circles. The common profile is not immediately apparent. But Preston has so indoctrinated us with her visual strategy—an obvious parallel to a broader cultural reification—that we quickly become willing accomplices. The hidden figurative codes in the piece—the insistent profile of mouth, nose, and chin—neatly reinforces the topography of her work as a whole. Preston thus cleverly de- and reconstructs the system of a seemingly autonomous abstraction by drawing attention to the linguistic deference that makes such a reading possible.

Colin Gardner