Women & Their Work
Katie Pell, Blind for Everything, 2008; mirrors and wood
Charm and Weight, 2008; wood and paint; 19 feet x 33
Katie Pellís art is an extension of an attitude that at first seems overly romantic and antiquated, mired in the failed utopian ideals of the sixties. However, the work is endearing because of the conviction with which the artist embraces both the space and the viewer. In Pellís recent exhibition Tiny Acts of Immeasurable Benefit at Women & Their Work, this strategy at times feels belabored, but the artistís overall enthusiasm wins the day.
Pellís premise is that we are all ďrock starsĒ (in the vein of, for instance, a glorious young Mick Jagger) if we can only realize our own potential. Her universe is populated with such Summer of Love sentimentality and, appropriately, is as flawed as that turbulent period of Americana. It takes a bit of time to embrace some of the work presented, but the exhibition as a whole contains a loose logic that ultimately holds sway over occasionally haphazard production. Belief is key; otherwise, the work slips into an incoherent ramble.
Stupa for America and people who love America, like the seminal work by Joseph Beuys referenced in the title, is an awkward yet inviting ensemble. The tongue-in-cheek title takes one aback (does anyone still seriously and openly proclaim their love for America?), but the pleasant apparatus and silliness of the piece renders oneís defenses useless and invites the viewer into the dialogue that can indeed prove salient. There are still plenty of wonderful things about this country that are worth embracing, but that sentiment is certainly not in vogue. This is the point of Pellís work; she sacrifices the logic of the status quo for a deeper longing of worth, community and positive reflection.
The viewer becomes the impetus of works such as Rock Star Butterfly and You Are a Beautiful butterfly, Meant to be Adored. Large, patterned fabric wings outstretch in both works, framing a small perch upon which the audience is invited to sit, creating a sort of DIY rock-star photo op. The pieces are reminiscent of a multitude of 1960s acid rock album covers. These two large installations are prominent works that go far to establish the egalitarian nature of the show. They are pedestals but hung together with a loose attention to artifice, as though Pellís burning desire to commune outstrips the need to make commodity art. This ethos is refreshing, if at times visually challenging.
One of the most striking pieces in the exhibition, Blind for Everything, absurdly sums up all of Pellís motivations. The work is a life-size inverted house of mirrors consisting of a rectangular column inside of which the artist transported herself to various communal gatherings. Pictures of these visitations are randomly paneled into the mirrored mosaic presented in the gallery. The piece is hokey, to be sure, but it harkens back to a type of openness and optimism barely present in todayís hard-edged world. It is as if Pell wants to reflect onto others how special they can be. The effect is disconcerting, but for all the right reasons.
Garland Fielder is an artist and writer based in Houston.