Magazine article Artforum International

Cynthia Lahti: PDX Contemporary

Magazine article Artforum International

Cynthia Lahti: PDX Contemporary

Article excerpt

"Daughter," a recent exhibition by Cynthia Lahti, a long-underrecognized artist's artist based in Portland, included works in a variety of media, all addressing the bonds of love and grief as experienced by girls in the same family tree. Lahti's purposefully raw, emotionally direct objects bring to mind the accidental elegance of childhood craft projects, but here the results are fraught with disturbing nuances that make a viewer wonder: Can one feel nostalgia for pain?

The Kip Twins, 2007, for example, is a small plaster sculpture composed of two busts of twin girls set side by side. At first glance, they have near-identical facial features and sport identical French-twist hairdos. On closer inspection, however, differences appear out of the girls' small-scale flaws--a broken nose on one, a long mouth on the other. In a different artist's hands the not-quite-identical twins might suggest an arch, Baudrillardian comment on the simulacral--genetic copies without an original--but here the effect is more plainspoken, a declarative, Diane Arbus-like observation on human identity as a systematic proliferation of imperfections.

Ruthless 2, 2007, a sculpture made of porcelain that looks more like white plaster, similarly skirts conceptual heavy-handedness on the way to deeper emotional terrain, depicting a girl in a simple pinafore lying flat against the wall, such that the wall is reimagined as the floor. Akin to Lahti's past sculptural works featuring only the backs of figures--a girl running or a woman with a cane--this work deploys a controlled crudeness to plumb feelings of aching loss and unfocused anxiety. As always in Lahti's work, an insistent emotional logic drives the conceptual innovation, rather than the other way around.

Among the most physically satisfying pieces in the show is Annette, 2007, a portrayal of a matronly Victorian woman with sunbonnet and plunging neckline, holding a kitten to the bosom of her frothy thumbed-clay dress. …

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