Elizabeth Jaeger, Black Leather Bench and Pink Bean Bag, 2015, leather, metal, dried peas, 25 × 74 × 40".

Elizabeth Jaeger, Black Leather Bench and Pink Bean Bag, 2015, leather, metal, dried peas, 25 × 74 × 40".

Elizabeth Jaeger

Elizabeth Jaeger, Black Leather Bench and Pink Bean Bag, 2015, leather, metal, dried peas, 25 × 74 × 40".

Characterized by an economy of form and material, the spare sculptural tableaux of Elizabeth Jaeger’s first solo exhibition in Texas are a meditation on physical and emotional supports. The slumped pinkish leather shape in the deadpanned Black Leather Bench and Pink Bean Bag (all works 2015), for example, is buttressed by a handmade modernist-style leather bench, from which the form casually cascades. This sack-like form, filled with dried peas, operates as both punching bag and body pillow. Denigrated and beloved, the bag is a fair approximation of what it’s like to be human most days.

An equally anthropomorphic trio of stretchers made of aluminum and silk (Stretcher 1–3) leaned lazily against the gallery walls: As the checklist pointed out, their silk is hand-dyed and their aluminum tubes hand-bent. Indeed, handcraft has been an important aesthetic marker in Jaeger’s previous work—wonkily proportioned plaster and ceramic humanoid and dog sculptures. This new trio brings to mind the poetic virtuosity of Susan Collis and Robert Gober in the works’ ability to convincingly ape the objects they purport to be. Of course, the silks’ shimmery colors—the fabric is dyed in a combination of indigo and teal—bespeak each structure’s status as art. By including so few works (five total) within the generous space, Jaeger asked the viewer to pay attention to the intricacies of each. After all, these are not stretcher bars for paintings but field stretchers, the supports used to extricate fallen soldiers from battlefields. What perils might necessitate such beautiful cots?

If the work runs into danger (and maybe danger is an overstatement), it’s that in using luxury materials (“Italian-sourced leather” and silk have histories as high-priced commodities), Jaeger appears to uncritically parlay a misconception about her own biography, namely her trajectory from boutique model to artist. The New York Times ran a profile of Jaeger this past October with the headline “Elizabeth Jaeger, Former Model, Reshaping Her Career.” Get it? She’s a sculptor now! In an interview with the Brooklyn Rail, Jaeger describes her foray into modeling as an experiment to aid in her figure construction. She has been rightly critical of the privileging of this particular narrative in lieu of a more nuanced framing of her practice. Seen through this lens, Jaeger’s use of materials might be construed as merely an extension of an haute-couture life-brand. But it might be better to view Jaeger’s engagement with these materials as a means of subtly intercepting her own biography. Such is the bind of identity politics imposing itself unheeded, whenever the identity in question is not white, male, and straight.

Jaeger’s paradoxically tight and capacious installation further presented an uneasy tension between the formed and the informe: the rectilinearity of the bench versus the beanbag’s slouch, the expansive aqueous color on the taut stretchers. This was nowhere truer than in the exhibition’s fifth work, a smallish sculpture of ceramics and human hair that hung, improbably, in a far corner of the gallery. Jaeger has made similar objects before—she calls them blobs. In the past, they took on sausage-like properties and were hung in a manner not dissimilar to some of Eva Hesse’s strung-tube works. But the blob sculpture at And Now is somewhat different. Its two components recall digits; their bumps and mounds (evidence of being handled) fit together nearly perfectly, but not quite. Blond hair hangs down like a wispy contrail; if the two forms are meant to imply coupledom, then the sculpture could be pointing to a relationship in midtrajectory, coming either together or apart.

In a statement accompanying the exhibition, Jaeger writes: “I’ve actually conditioned myself to be removed from reality entirely—to see the world around me as a set of images and objects with aesthetic and conceptual attributes, devoid of real relationships, desires and needs.” But if that were so, the works wouldn’t posses the emotive power that they do. They wouldn’t sing quietly from their places, as they did here, qualifying and calling into question the artist’s claim of removal. In this way, the handmade also contains the heart-wrenched.

Andy Campbell