Barry Whistler Gallery
Rebecca Holland, Sugar Blocks, 2007
cast sugar, polyurethane
16 x 7.5 x 7.5 inches
Pink Sheet, 2007
cast sugar, polyurethane
46 x 46 x .75 inches
I liked Rebecca Holland’s show at Barry Whistler Gallery. Her Serra-y slabs, Newman-y zips and Hesse-ian block-unit sculptures made of molded urethane and coated with concentrated beet sugar syrup are seductive, beautiful and quietly commanding in a subversive, postfeminist way. One is confronted, however, with a conundrum common with much contemporary art: many artists seem primarily bent on finding novel materials for fabrication, and content be damned.
The modernist program—once abandoned but now explored with nostalgic, nondogmatic brio—was, in essence, geared to level/elevate material, psychological, cultural, political and aesthetic grounds simultaneously, leading us toward a brave new world of equality and functional/absurd beauty. The legions coming out of MFA programs these days are forced, by a combination of art-historical conditioning and boom-market ambition, to hunt for a new shtick with which to make their mark.
So, we now have art made of everything under the sun, from blood to toothpaste to tapioca. Luckily—or distressingly—there is a whole lotta stuff on our terrestrial globe, and chemical companies are busy making material possibilities theoretically endless. Psychedelic hero and posthistorical paterfamilias Sigmar Polke has even gone so far as to use meteorites, finding the Earth’s rocks insufficiently cosmic for certain works. Taking their cue from McLuhan’s dictum, viewers are left to analyze the medium’s messages—to judge for themselves whether an artist’s effort transcends the merely clever gesture and contains more poignant information.
Does Holland’s work lean too heavily on her sugar shtick? Rachel Whiteread continues to outdo herself with her casts of the insides of various things. While Holland’s translucent cast cinderblocks owe Whiteread a certain debt, her work generally doesn’t suffer the latter artist’s conceptual lags. While I enjoy the novelty of Holland’s surfaces—sugar does look lusciously different than plastic, or at least seems to—and impeccable installation, I am left a little skeptical about the individual objects. They look great in relation to one another and fare well as yet another glossy take on the designer formalism so popular in recent years. The works’ fragile colors are fashionable pastel hues that define so much art in this vein; they leave me wondering if we don’t have Dave Hickey to thank for a lot of work currently emanating out of the American West.
While Holland has the main gallery, the two artists who occupy the second gallery are, like her, recent Marfa transplants, making certain affinities all the more clear. Whether or not Holland’s minimal lineage and the refined sensibility of her chosen material is enough to carry her sweet, process-oriented operation forward remains to be seen.
Titus O’Brien teaches visual art at the University of Texas at Dallas and is a critic for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.