New York

Lara Schnitger

Anton Kern Gallery

Across a wide spectrum of artistic practice, craft materials are in vogue, with Sarah Sze, Tom Friedman, and Jim Lambie among the many prominent artists using handworked odds and ends such as drinking straws, sugar cubes, and Q-tips in their sculptures. Lara Schnitger seems to take a similarly obsessive pleasure in manipulating objects in her chosen sphere, the musty world of cheap textiles. Filling up the gallery, the artist installed a forest of awkward forms that jutted out in all directions and had to be carefully navigated, suggesting the abundance and eclecticism of a flea market.

Schnitger's humble resources immediately bring to mind the second-wave-feminist work produced by artists involved in Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago's 1972 “Womanhouse” exhibition in Los Angeles (where Schnitger, who hails from the Netherlands, is currently based). Schapiro's call to reevaluate previously beyond-the-pale techniques such as patternmaking and knitting is evoked by Schnitger's Alma and Almita (all works 2002). Resembling doilies or pot holders, these units, which use wool thread, are arranged into interlocking knee-high structures that seem like homespun versions of Buckminster Fuller's geodesic domes. In Mobil Mom. neckties and vlaid fabric are stitched together, then wrapped tightly around a ten-foot-high wooden frame to produce a monument to the skirt complete with socks on the feet of the supporting struts. The conical construction looks as if it were meant to provide shelter, like a pastel tepee.

Despite these domestic references, Schnitger lacks the political agenda of her predecessors, and, although the artist is adept at fabricating clever objects, her numerous art-historical references don't coalesce into a focused whole. Her work's playful humor and wide swaths of found fabric may recall Sigmar Polke and his textile paintings, for example, but Schnitger's formal gamesmanship is more obviously inflected by a fashion sense that places style over substance. A sculpture like Vanity Man—consisting of a base made from neckties fanned out into a vortex, surmounted by an asymmetrical structure of wood slats and organza—has closer affinities with the patchwork aesthetic of current clothing designers like Imitation of Christ. (Of course, that duo also recycles hippies' use of denim in the '60s.) Schnitger's present-day fashion victim might be Jealous Flusher, a fabric collage depicting a thin, larger-than-life-size female figure with a hip coiffure and jacket. The flasher's exposed genitals, denoted by a patch of faux fur, turn a potentially serious statement about sartorial trends into light comedy.

In short, the works risk remaining at the level of charm, as in Tularosa a collaged curtain that hangs on the wall depicts a simply rendered smiley face. What is the viewer supposed to take away from such a picture? One perceives a deep commitment to materials and form, yet the tendency to make friendly and accessible images is not accompanied by an identifiable raison d'être. The transitory nature of fabric and style works in the fashion world, but one assumes that Schnitger wants her products to stick around a little longer.

Gregory Williams