New York

Beverly Buchanan, Moonshine Man’s House, 2009, wood, 12 × 16 3/4 × 18 1/2".

Beverly Buchanan, Moonshine Man’s House, 2009, wood, 12 × 16 3/4 × 18 1/2".

Beverly Buchanan

Andrew Edlin Gallery

Beverly Buchanan, Moonshine Man’s House, 2009, wood, 12 × 16 3/4 × 18 1/2".

Beverly Buchanan’s tabletop cabins and shacks evoke rural life, and a passing glance at these seemingly cobbled-together structures might typecast them as some interesting kind of folk art. But Buchanan studied in New York with the Abstract Expressionist Norman Lewis and was close to Romare Bearden, and she arrived at these sculptures after a period, begun in the 1970s, of working with blocks of cast concrete, which she piled and leaned in ways relating to post-Minimalism and Land art. Eventually, though, as she wrote in an artist’s statement, her “vision and interest shifted to the reality of current places and their surrounding landscape. The house and its yard and the road behind and across.” The works that resulted are full of a sense of the South, where Buchanan, who sadly died earlier this year, was from.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, a friction runs through the work between the sophistication of Buchanan’s knowledge and training and the makeshift quality of the buildings that interested her. Some of her works intensify that friction by making art their explicit theme: Still Life House, 2008, for example, is a one-room cabin treated with a bright palette of reds and yellows, its shutters perhaps the still lifes of its title; and the layered horizontal beams and boards of Sculpture House, 2012, may nod to the methods of an artist like Robert Grosvenor, though they put those methods to far more ramshackle- and precarious-looking ends. Parts of the sloping roof of Sculpture House look as though they might easily slide off, and some of the house’s timbers play no obvious role in supporting it or holding it together. But they don’t just lie there, either—they form a composition, an intricate series of lines and planes, advances and recessions, transparencies and opacities. The visual complexity of the work is in tension with its sense of improvised, spare-parts construction.

That tension points to a subtext of many of these works: the ingenuity of vernacular architecture, the touching complication of the humblest attempts to answer the need for shelter. Made of wood, copper, acrylic, and plastic, Sculpture House is one of Buchanan’s more extravagant buildings; others in the show, which also included a group of fauve-colored pastel drawings of the same subject matter, were a good deal simpler, more truly shacks. But even My Shed and Moonshine Man’s House, both 2009, for example—structurally no more than little boxes—are put together out of multiple small pieces of worn wood, becoming patchwork assemblages of what’s available that speak of the resourcefulness that can come with limited means. House from Scraps, 2011, addresses this dynamic through its title, yet this was one of the more complex works here: Manufacture from fragments and leftovers has in this case led to an elaborate Jenga-like stack of disparate parts, including an exterior staircase leading nowhere. Forgotten (Wood for Sale), 2011, on the other hand, though its title seems to point in the same direction, is practically elegant, with its flat roof and planar Bauhaus structure, a bow to Miesian modernism echoed in the even geometric plan of Buckhead Shack, 2011—an appropriate design for a shack in that affluent part of Atlanta. Buchanan was one of those artists who find a trope, a device, that they repeat again and again, yet from which they are able to develop a wide and far-reaching vocabulary.

David Frankel