Chris Daubert’s somber, ambitious multimedia exhibition at ArtSpace 1616 is a thoughtfully researched investigation into the nature of reality, systems of understanding, and the phenomena of power. This may suggest the show is an off-putting and overly intellectualized conceptual critique. But it isn’t. Although Daubert’s work has long been recognized for its intellectual chops, his constructions possess an ineffable melancholia and lingering noir-ish solemnity that goes to the bone.
The show is organized in three parts: a series of light boxes that span the length of the gallery, their mirrored surfaces etched with the mutating borders of nation states; wall-mounted steel sculptures that form winged entities, such as birds or angels; and oxidized steel paintings of shadowy figures. Daubert’s interest in modes of inquiry is the thread that unifies these bodies of work.
Like Jasper Johns and Joyce Kosloff before him, Daubert uses cartography to question form and tactics of control. Working from a database that monitors the ever-evolving borders of countries around the globe, Daubert screens and then etches the maps on framed mirrors mounted on silver-painted boxes no larger than about 8 inches. He etches double maps, face to face, giving the shapes of their outlines the look of Rorschach tests. Lit from within, the boxes illuminate shifting ground: maps as constructed systems that, over time, erode and reform through excesses of political power, and natural or social forces.
Translating the maps into sculpture, Daubert removes the shapes from their global context. Thus isolated, they become wing-like abstract forms. The rusted, oxidized steel out of which the shapes are cut give the works an elegiac, heraldic, slightly Germanic presence. They are steely odes to old world orders, ephemeral ideological structures and time.
The nebulous figures that materialize in the steel panel paintings are the trace elements of a 30-year-old performance Daubert produced while in graduate school at U.C. Davis. Originally a wrestling match between reason and romance staged as a shadow play, Daubert silkscreened stills of the play onto the panels with enamel paint, then left them to the elements. What remains, seen for the first time in their entirety, are ghostly images, back-lit by the inferno that only two conflicting, fundamental philosophical arguments can create. Without evidence of hand or touch, or interest in expressive forms of any kind, Daubert’s work nevertheless evokes operatic themes of creation and artistic transformation.
Sharing the front of the gallery are Lynn Beldner and Steve Briscoe. Both artists deploy an ad hoc aesthetic, often referred to as “bricoleur,” and display their manipulated or slightly altered found materials in staged collections. When successful, the work holds a sort of folkloric charm and plainspoken warmth.
Steve Briscoe attaches scraps of wood and bits of tin to worn broom poles. Or embeds vintage thumbtacks to mop handles. The pieces suggest cozy utility and speak a down-home patois, like jug band instruments, improvised farm tools, or back woods canoe paddles. Displayed as a group against the gallery’s white-painted brick wall, the work becomes an ode to the stalwart satisfactions of thrift, economy and making do.
Lynn Beldner collects domestic décor such as carved wooden fruit, dismantling the original to isolate and formalize pineapples, bananas and guavas upright on wooden dowels. Or she paints crude, off-the-cuff depictions of such things as saltshakers, shoes, and coffee mugs on a diverse collection of china plates lightheartedly arrayed on the wall. Paint chip samples are glued to dowels and displayed on a pedestal like a twee little showroom of dollhouse tables.
Whether Briscoe’s and Beldner’s sculpture suffers in contrast to the gravitas of Daubert’s work, or the artists fail to transform their material into something greater than the sum of its parts, the work falls short as art when it holds only the diverting charm of gift shop collectibles. To succeed, art objects must function as whole organisms before which we find ourselves witnessing the expansion of our consciousness, no matter how slight.
If you go
Chris Daubert, Lynn Beldner, Steve Briscoe
Where: Artspace 1616, 1616 Del Paso Blvd., Sacramento
Info: Contact Mima Begovic at 916-849-1127 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.