Los Angeles

Meg Webster

Stuart Regen Gallery

Meg Webster is known for her earthy, commandingly primal forms, yet the three works exhibited here managed to inhabit the gallery, even make it feel full, without coming off as overly imposing. The objects displayed did not seem to acknowledge each other’s presence any more than they did the viewers’; these are certainly not Webster’s warmest, most user-friendly works, though, like all her art, they embody a quiet tug-of-war between cool and warm, live and dead, the constructed and the “natural,” and the captive and the “free.”

Steel Containing Salt (all works 1990), which consists of a sheet of steel rolled into a cylinder resembling a trash barrel in size and shape, filled with rocklike chunks of sea salt, bears the most obvious signs of human effort. The dull silvery gray cylinder is somewhat corroded, and its seam is as blatant as a massive facial scar. The salt resembles bright white fragments of quartz, or a bizarre pile of oddly dulled teeth, reflecting a little of the low light in the room. The round shape and muted coloration provide a soothing backdrop for neutral introspection.

The largest and probably the most striking of the three works, entitled Wall of Wax, is just that: a golden yellow curved wall of beeswax, eight feet high and 24 feet long. Shaped like a giant letter C, it dominates the room it bisects, and is so big one assumes it must have been cast inside the gallery. Though its size is substantial, its potentially overpowering effect is countered by the associations triggered by the wax. Drippy, semitransparent, and full of streaks and globs, the layers of wax suggest meltable and ephemeral substances—butterscotch, candles, syrup, and honey—that contrast with its wall-like mass. The beeswax exudes such fragrance and charm that one wishes Webster had made an entire wax amphitheatre. Where are the bees? This piece looked as though its makers had swarmed away.

Mother Mound, a tidy, evenly damp, breastlike mound of soil, four feet high and nine feet in diameter, also seemed as though it could have been made by animals. One felt as if some force of nature had formed each piece in this show and then absented itself. This sense of an “absent maker” began to suggest itself as a metaphor for a whole lineage of creators/abandoners stretching back throughout ’human history, to the beginning of our entanglement with and manipulation of the physical world.

Amy Gerstler