Friday, April 24, 2009

Richard Woods: Seeing the Forest for the Trees

While Woods has done numerous projects and commissions in New York, The Nature Show—at Perry Rubenstein Gallery through May 23rd— is the first large-scale exhibition in the United States of the artists’ work since 2002. Plywood and household gloss—utilizing traditional techniques of wood block printmaking—cover interior and exterior surfaces to create divergent graphic surroundings. This all-encompassing architectural intervention teases the boundaries of—and explores the relationships between—function and decoration.

Walking into “The Nature Show” was like walking into Paula Cooper Gallery in 1989 to see a show by Robert Gober. Woods’ vernacular in “The Nature Show” juxtaposes functionality and dysfunction and entwines the idiosyncratic with pedestrian in ways that echo Gober’s work. Like Gober, Woods can completely transform structures and spaces, engaging them with reality and fantasy. In this installation by Woods, cartoonish line drawings of flowers from his floral repeat series on a vivid orange background cover the gallery floors: Woods' signature wood panel logo series wraps the gallery walls floor to ceiling. "Reversed repeat tiles" in Woods’ new series “Song Thrush” flank window walls facing the street. The installation also features a selection of Woods' paintings, created with household paint on panels made from leftover floorboards inlayed into raw plywood. Integrated into the artist’s practice in the last few years, these paintings have become essential to his process.

Drawing upon a number of influences such as William Morris, Marcel Duchamp, Richard Artschwager, and James Turrell, Woods constantly experiments through a methodical process of formulation and finalization. Woods’ ideas sizzle when he activates a space or object. He riffs on architecture, and found objects and materials. Turrell’s perception phenomenology, use of existing grounds, primary concerns of light and space, and defiant perspective are called upon, along with Artschwager’s use of synthetic materials, exaggerated wood-grain patterns, and appropriative mimicry.

Woods is a great admirer of William Morris (1834-1896), who preferred flat use of line and color and abhorred “realistic” shading. Morris practiced a hands-on approach based on multiple aspects that Woods uniquely incorporates in his work. With their return to craftsmanship and quality materials, Morris and fellow members of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (such as Dante Gabriel Rosetti and Arthur Hughes) altered the direction of art, architecture, and design in Britain. Socialist, poet, artist, and architect, Morris was a prescient historic preservationist who founded his own publishing company and organized guilds of designers and decorative craftsmen. Having authored a great deal of leftist literature, Morris and his Pre-Raphaelite brothers shared a love of things ranging from John Ruskin’s writings to Gothic architecture. Though tapestries designed by Morris are renowned, his efforts in later years turned to political activism.

Rife with whimsy and illusion, Woods’ work lacks a precious tone. One can walk on, touch, and exist within his installations. With makeovers of every kind commoditized, Woods captivates a view with makeovers of people’s everyday environments. And that goes for the not-so-everyday: By rendering a courtyard grounds with exaggerated cobblestones of white, black, and gray, Woods transformed the grounds of a Renaissance Palazzo at the 50th Venice Biennale. His multidimensional installations–whether in public buildings or retail institutions—culminate in contemporary and theatrical interpretations, coupled with optimistic and progressive perspectives.

The Nature Show by Richard Woods
Through May 23, 2009
Perry Rubenstein Gallery

527 West 23rd Street NYC

No comments: