Jackie Winsor

Milwaukee Art Museum

Jackie Winsor’s sculptures are so sober, deliberate, and palpably saturated with experience that it is not surprising to learn that her artistic output to date has been relatively small. From her early coiled-rope sculptures (inaugurated in 1967) through her wall inset pieces of 1990, Winsor has created no more than 75 sculptures; this retrospective brought together 28 of them.

From Fifty-Fifty, 1975, a wooden cube with 20,000 nails each patiently hammered into its surface, to Exploded Piece, 1980–82, which the artist blew up (with the assistance of the New York Police Department bomb squad) and then reassembled, Winsor’s signature efforts register the performance activity involved in their realization. Indeed, there is a sense that the objects she creates bear the fruits of the carefully planned sequences of both chance and design that comprise their history. In Painted Piece, 1979–80, she covered the six sides of a 31-inch plywood cube with 50 separate layers of acrylic paint, documented each and every addition, and then tied the box to the back of a car and repeatedly dragged it up and down a sidewalk, creating a richly battered and scumbled surface. Yet, Winsor’s sometimes extraordinary interventions come not from a desire for spectacle, but, rather, from an obsession with her experiential interaction with her objects—with incorporating the process while nevertheless retaining their quite palpable holistic essences. Winsor selectively burns, explodes, braids, paints, wraps, knots, piles, gilds, coils, nails, and gouges her sculptures, all the while maintaining, and even enhancing, their inherent dignity and integrity.

Her shapes—the cube, sphere, cylinder, and pyramid—never stray very far from the order and constancy of their basic geometries; indeed, it is her superlative command of this restricted repertoire of primary forms, in their most evocative essence, that enables her performative emendations. Circle/Square, 1987, a well-turned tour de force in which Winsor uses the space in and around her objects as a crucial and active sculptural element, maintains a delicate balance between the cube and the sphere. Here, as in almost all of her work, space is not an absence, but a necessary formal component, its shadow and partner. The distinction between inside and outside becomes blurred; indeed, air so fully permeates most of these pieces that they seem formed to be its receptacle, as if space were the unviewable kernel, the Ur-geometry housed within their structures. Winsor’s most recent work virtually sculpts an absence; Black Inset Wall Piece with Squared Spiral, 1990, consists of a thin frame housing a small square black niche that is to be set into the surface of a wall, like a small holy-water font. Winsor struggles to reconcile a state of being with a state of logic; she seeks (and discovers) the presence and residue of human touch at the core of the rational world of geometry.

James Yood