Opening the door to a show of wood sculptures by Gyongy Laky and Meech Miyagi at b. sakata garo, my first reaction was: “Oh, Wow! How did they do that?”
Laky’s screaming red “Ex Claim,” a giant exclamation point made of commercial wood, acrylic paint, G.I. Joes, and “bullets for building,” drew me in. A puzzle-like Pop Art punctuation mark assembled from myriad small pieces of wood, precise trim screws, and tiny, almost invisible, red plastic G.I. Joe toys, it called up for me associations with advertising art, architecture, blood, warfare, secret missions and “Where’s Waldo.”
In contrast, Miyagi’s mysterious “Desperate for Recognition 12,13,” is a ghostly white sculpture of skeletal, twig-like, paper-wrapped sticks held together with thin copper wire. It rises up in the center of the room like an elegant sea creature, a surreal sentinel of sorts. It made me think of fossilized sea grass, a volcanic eruption of ashy tendrils or a network of nerves inside the body.
Though these works differ in appearance and effect, they share several things in common. Formally, they display extraordinary craftsmanship, extreme refinement and amazing labor intensiveness. Thematically, they evidence a fascination with systems (language for Laky, neural networks for Miyagi), and the interplay between mind and body, intellect and imagination, the tangible and the metaphorical.
Laky’s work holds up best in the potentially chaotic gallery space, which combines white walls, red brick walls, a gothic spiral staircase in the middle of the gallery that is an artwork itself, and an intimate hallway for smaller works. Her bold approach to color, texture and symbol both in large and small works transcends any difficulties.
Her sculptures range from small works, such as “It’s Complicated,” the word “EAT” made of dark, spiky locust prunings and insect specimen pins, and “Golf Tease,” the expression “OH!” spelled out with red wooden golf tees that cast long dark shadows on the white wall behind them, to “Globalization III: Red Ink.” A massive wall piece made of cut and assembled black ash branches and commercial wood that spells out “RAW” in a red river that runs through the work, it reflects Laky’s concern for the effects of global industrialization and climate change on the environment.
Laky’s brilliant use of color is most apparent in “Incident,” a massive cross with a white hot center that radiates out into shades of yellow, orange and red that suggests, perhaps, an exploding fireball or a religious revelation. Whatever the case, it is gorgeous as is, on a smaller scale, the punningly titled “We Turn,” a witty take on a U-Turn sign, in the form of an arch made of delicately tinted green apple wood with diagonal cuts painted red and held together with tiny orange screws.
Miyagi’s sculptures range from a pair of sturdy, wind-blown legs that made me think of the Greek myth of the Fall of Icarus, the son of Daedalus, who flew too close to the sun on wings his father made of feathers and wax, to spiral forms set on the floor that suggest whirlwinds or swirling spiritual emanations. Other works brought to mind The Wicker Man sculptures sacrificed by druids to ensure fertile harvests in Celtic pagan mythology, Native American blanket and basketry symbols and signs, or the “rete mirabile” (“the marvelous net”) that has an impressive record of longevity in the history of illustrations of the brain.
In a statement, Miyagi describes his sculptures as influenced by the process of aging and current studies in neurobiology that relate to the role of memory in recording and reinforcing our life experiences and how those experiences affect our present and future perceptions of memories.
Unfortunately Miyagi’s quiet, delicate, white-washed work, set on the floor and often backed by white walls, gets a little lost in the gallery in comparison to Laky’s more aggressive works. But they are very much worth spending time with and thought on.
If you go
Wood Sculptures by Gyongi Laky and Meech Miyagi
Where: b. sakata garo, 923 20th St.
When: Through March 30. Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.
Info: (916) 447-4276.