Robert Brady: STREMMEL GALLERY

By Robertson, Kirk | Artforum International, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Robert Brady: STREMMEL GALLERY


Robertson, Kirk, Artforum International


Robert Brady grew up in Reno, Nevada, on the edge of the Great Basin Desert, where it is common for residents to pick up otherwise unremarkable odds and ends--rocks, broken weathered wood, bits and pieces of crumpled tin--and cart them home. The process of collecting and then reassembling these curiosities in a new location--the happenstance of finding, the subsequent juxtaposition of disparate elements--forms, on the one hand, a new repository of information and, on the other, a space where looking and wanting, object and idea, resonate.

Echoes of this habit were evident in "A Full Backyard," which assembled sixty-five recent works fabricated from a variety of materials--from ceramic to wood--ranging from allusive minimalist wall forms to large-scale figurative pieces and mixed-media works on paper. Brady's energy and engagement in the process of making are palpable. Throughout, there is a kind of implied movement; one senses the artist's thoughts jumping quickly from one idea and material to another as he investigates each new object. The gallery itself is to be commended for the eccentric installation--figures crouch expectantly in alcoves; pieces fly high on the walls, hovering near the reception desk--which served the artist's everything-into-the-mix aesthetic well.

Several works exuded an ingenious yet goofy blend of humor and dread. Three untitled birds from 2009--assemblages of wire, wood, cloth, nails, fiber, and studio-floor sweepings--look like battered airplanes or Mad Max make-do contraptions that might, perhaps, be able to fly. A small carved wooden relief, Eye of the Storm, 1988, presents an outsize H.C. Westermann-like cyclonic form looming over a brick shelter and its terrified, stuck-in-the-doorway inhabitant, upending calm and sanctuary. Empire, 2006, is a large wooden comb laced with hundreds of staples; the gold foil and kanji covering its top are worn away, as if the sculpture were Ozymandias, broken artifact from a vanished desert tribe.

Some pieces--from a 2009 series of untitled works made by stretching a thin white skin over an underlying wooden armature--recall dustpans or shovel blades, while others might be mock-ups for ecclesiastical architecture, cathedral facades or floor plans. Similar intimations of wearied spirituality recur in large-scale figurative works. With elongated limbs that reach to the floor, some crouched or seated human forms imply thrones, alluding, it seems, both to the third of nine orders of angels and to thirteenth-century portrayals of virgins as the Seats of Wisdom. …

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