Los Angeles

Nancy Shaver

Nancy Shaver’s work seems to fall into two categories: one that suggests but does not provide content, and another that makes a point of presenting something null in content’s usual place. Boats, 1988, is an example of a piece that suggests content, functioning as a receptacle for generic associations about childhood, bathing, lakes, or boating. It consists of a smallish, weathered iron trough, near which sit two paper boats, one slightly larger than the other. All three items are placed on the floor. The objects contrast visually and functionally: the trough is heavy, worn, utilitarian, and usually filled with water, while the boats are light, pristine, toylike, and meant to float. The Picnic, 1987, another work composed of three elements, also nibbles at the edges of content. Each element seems to be a fragment of some bland memory. A pretty chunk of a worn old rug, full of staples, hangs on the wall in a heavy black frame. To the right of the rug, white framed and matted, is a grainy photo of a little girl at a picnic. On the floor is a small glass box containing crumpled desk-calendar pages. Viewed together, these elements produce a low-grade, disconnected nostalgia for childhood, the past. The box on the floor recalls the lovely device old films employed to show the passage of time: ghostly calendar pages flipping and blowing away.

Several of Shaver’s pieces center on found paintings and/or frames. The Elements, 1987, is a dull found painting of the sea shore, framed, with a small attributive brass plaque. In the context of the show, it looked dim, somewhat misplaced, almost embarrassed. Time, 1989, is a multicolored found frame surrounding a multicolored stippled painting, apparently made by Shaver to match the frame. This was hung near an uninteresting photo of a rocky shoreline, also sporting a found frame. Blue Panel, 1986, is a found frame which the artist reframed; both surround a solid blue panel. In these pieces Shaver has purposefully framed things that are visually unremarkable, practically blanks, eschewing content altogether. By creating small voids within the frame, she seems to be commenting on the nature of framing as a process for drawing viewers’ attention.

When Shaver selects cast-off objects for use in her work, she shows a preference for the tastefully rusty, the delicately crumpled, and the amusingly mundane, not the crazed or trashed. Her works are small and spare—dispassionate, secretive, and often baffling. Compared to the larger, wilder, and grimier assemblage work from the ’60s, Shaver’s pieces are terribly discreet, almost neutered. They swallow themselves. Shaver prods viewers’ emotional memories by using found objects that look as though they have sentimental significance, at the same time as she circumvents sentiment, building her pieces around a central emptiness, so that they remain open and unfixed.

Amy Gerstler