Los Angeles

View of “3 Women,” 2016.

View of “3 Women,” 2016.

“3 Women”

View of “3 Women,” 2016.

“3 Women,” which takes its title from Robert Altman’s 1977 film in which three characters merge into one, reached across divisions of time and circumstance to draw connections between the practices of Lenore Tawney, Loie Hollowell, and Tanya Aguiñiga, each of whose work mines the intersections of craft and fine art. Perhaps in a nod to the titular trio, three of the late Lenore Tawney’s elegant open-warp woven forms greeted viewers near the gallery’s entrance. Recalling hanging obelisks, they were freely suspended above flat, white rectangular plinths that enhanced the works’ vertical orientation and sculptural presence. The most striking was the earliest of the three, The Megalithic Doorway, which, although made in 1963, had never before been exhibited. An elongated hanging composed of interwoven black and beige linen spanning some sixteen feet, it gave the simultaneous impression of a labial portal and a totemic column. On the adjacent wall, the viewer encountered five of this artist’s delicate but sure-handed red-ink line drawings of variously configured circles from the early 1970s—also exhibited for the first time. Each drawing was neatly matted and encased in a mahogany frame gilded on its front face with gold leaf. While Tawney was celebrated during her lifetime as a daring and inexhaustible pioneer who played a major role in elevating fiber arts, her work has not been shown in Los Angeles since 1968, an oversight this show sought to correct. The Landing’s handsome, restrained exhibition showcased the exquisite detail of these works, which reward prolonged scrutiny with seemingly boundless formal revelations.

Tawney’s audacious meticulousness resounded with six recent canvases by New York–based painter Loie Hollowell. Serially structured according to what the artist playfully terms stacked lingam (the Sanskrit word for a stylized phallic symbol that translates literally as “pillar of light”), these works feature serpentine geometric forms through which prismatic bands of sponged oil paint merge into one another. Each flattened double helix is anchored by an almond-shaped gateway that is a direct reference to the vagina, as are the montes pubis that protrude and burrow in the spaces between the snaking schema and the framing edge. Built up with molding paste, triangular extrusions spill onto the thick sides of the linen canvas, giving the impression that all manner of creased flesh is blistering beneath the surface.

In a rear corner of the gallery, Aguiñiga, whose socially engaged woven installations address border relations between Mexico and California, presented Teetering of the Marginal, 2016, a poetic and intimate sculptural environment harnessing a range of organic materials. The artist’s abstract, unfired terra-cotta orbs adorned with tufts of alpaca hair were suspended at varying heights alongside more figurative pieces constructed from canvas, beeswax, and various gauzes and clays—such as the giant kidney form hovering amid various phalli and saclike shapes. Although all initially appeared to be drooping from thick cotton rope coated in beeswax, upon further inspection they were revealed to be cradled, nearly invisibly, by fine-spun cotton-thread hammocks. Seen in this light, the ropes gave the impression of limply dangling, soon-to-be-shed exoskeletons—suggesting the impotency of tired frameworks.

While the works on view resonated aesthetically with the pale, dusty-pink desert hues of Altman’s 3 Women, the exhibition’s framework and press release proffered another curatorial conceit, one that (like the film) leaned on an antiquated celebration of “femininity” structured according to a now-dated fantasy of fluid female identities—one clad in crocheted flounces and steeped in amorphous spirituality. The success of the show lay in the works’ ability to transcend this somewhat unfortunate ready-made organizing principle. Technical precision, whether in Tawney’s assiduously detailed, perceptually obfuscating textiles and drawings, Hollowell’s scintillating paintings, or Aguiñiga’s structure-shedding biomorphic sculptures, allowed the works to take on formal logics of their own—fugitively eliding the three-in-one category in which the show sought to pin them down.

Erin Kimmel