Los Angeles

Terri Phillips

acuna-hansen gallery

In “Testimony,” her third solo show at Acuna-Hansen Gallery, Terri Phillips presented seven new sculptures that, while outwardly modest, attest to a certain heroic grandeur. Though evocative more of down-home folklore than of great religious narratives, the works aspire nonetheless to join the extended lineage of art that attempts to give image and form to signs and wonders. Collectively, they reinforced Phillips’s established tendency to conflate the minimal, the humble, and the homespun with the surreal, the epic, and the supernatural.

Among the most spectacular of the artist’s offerings was Meteorite (all works 2007), which served as both a medley of modernist sculptural strategies and a musing on presentations or interpretations of natural phenomena as evidence of divine immanence. In a Brancusian riff on the relation between sculpture and base, a pedestal resembling a cross between an Ionic column and a fur-covered scratching post for cats supports a crude painted object akin to its cosmic referent and to mid-twentieth-century abstract sculpture. From either side of the concave-convex mass sprout clusters of synthetic fibers suggestive of rays of divine light or energy à la Bernini’s Ecstasy of St. Teresa, 1647–52, or the sorts of geysers, volcanoes, and vents that plague asteroid adventurers in sci-fi movies (they also are evocative of pompoms, pigtails, and the tassels on a tricycle’s handlebars).

Phillips’s Table also played on sculptural tradition. A no-frills shrine, it displays a shriveled hand, a pair of dentures, and an object that might be a bone or a severed phallus, all crudely modeled in clay. The strangeness of this array aside, the punch of the work is in the makeshift table; one leg is bent sharply where two pieces of wood are joined, suggesting a mended break but also creating a kind of knee that animates the table into a contrapposto four-footed friend.

The standout work in the show was Church, a model of a white clapboard chapel tipped slightly backward and held aloft by a branch, like a box trap. It promises revelation, or captivity, for those who dare to take the bait. Evidence that even the most obvious of snares remains seductive, the work demands that we get down on our knees—something a good sculpture or a good dose of religion can do—in order to be able to look underneath it, where we discover a small ceramic rainbow. The work is a success not only in its avoidance of the tendency toward the iconic that leaves sculpture’s potential for peripatetic and temporal experience unexplored in some of Phillips’s other work, but also in the way it plays the act of looking against the act of searching. In rewarding those who seek, Church speaks affectingly of a quest for the metaphysical.

Christopher Miles