Los Angeles

Liz Craft

Liz Craft derives inspiration from any manner of cultural fodder: from high to low, from mundane to fantastic. Often, the spark seems to come when she mashes multiple aesthetics together, as in the sculptures featured in “Death of a Clown,” an exhibition of work from 2010. Several pieces see her combining the most debased of cultural forms (pictures of clowns and flowers, living-room furniture) with the loftiest (geometric abstraction, Minimalism) and some in between (Pop art, assemblage, hyperrealism).

A group of wall-hung pieces incorporate the grid—as much a standard of modernism and Minimalism as a visual and physical structure essential to the decorative arts. These rectangles of steel mesh, framed by rectangles of welded metal tubing, might share their material basis with Robert Morris’s late-1960s cubic structures, but Craft addresses them as if they were rough-weave linen or the open-weave “canvas” used in yarn crafts. For Left and Right, thick, bulky yarn is woven through the steel warp and woof to create giant needlepoint flowers. Elsewhere, using a rug-hooking technique, Craft draws tufts of yarn and fabric through the mesh so that the dangling materials form the hair and beard of giant clown faces. These visages are adorned with found objects cast in bronze and then painted white: a lemon for an eye, a serving tray for teeth, rumpled jeans for wrinkly lips. One grid with an abstract design rests on the floor. There, it suggests at once a landscape (with some white-painted objects rising as architecture), a burlesque of the classic Minimalist floor piece, and a shaggy rug.

Allusions to home decor crop up again. In other works, furniture functions as sculptural pedestal: A side table holds a rough-formed ceramic clown figurine; on a full-size couch nearby, a young woman sleeps stiffly or stiff as a corpse (both furniture and figure were sculpted in clay and then cast in fiberglass). A mélange of Pre-Raphaelite, Arts and Crafts, and Art Nouveau style overlaid atop references to representations of death—from Egyptian sarcophagi to Sleeping Beauty—the latter piece, Nicole Couch (Pink, Fuchsia, Orange), draws tension from the stillness of its pasty-skinned figure and the lively floral pattern on the upholstery. Sculpted in full relief, the exuberant design almost seems to emerge from, if not envelop, the couch.

But for all its visual dynamism, the work felt awkwardly placed in the center of the gallery—and that awkwardness was telling. Whereas much of Craft’s past output has involved the conversion of two-dimensional forms into full, three-dimensional presences, the sculptures in this show, particularly those backed into corners and hung on walls, emphasize the frontal and the pictorial. Likewise, the engrossing front of Nicole Couch drew interest away from its “blank” backside, which felt like something you just had to get around—the sculpture was as unwieldy as a real couch placed in the middle of a living room. The show left one wanting more probing of the peripatetic potential of Baroque (Bernini) and modernist (Caro) sculptural space—a space that becomes fully “known” only in the ever-elusive experience in the round—which when applied to Craft’s highly idiosyncratic imaginings has so energized her work in the past.

Christopher Miles