April 3 – May 2, 2021
Artists often curate group shows in their own image. Broken Dishes at Soloway Gallery is a mosaic of a show organized by Nancy Shaver, and follows her own process of making. Like the found pieces of furniture she embellishes with pottery shards and multi-colored yarn, the narrow storefront volume of Soloway becomes an object on which to affix unexpected treasures, by the curator and her two colleagues Pam Cardwell and Tracy Miller, and fill with words (provided by the poet Charity Coleman). Shaver consciously seeks to remove the notion of traditional gallery etiquette and hierarchy: the artists’ works are tangled together—their placement is about concept, not convenience—and while the works share aesthetic affinities, this is not a group show in the typical sense but more of a collaborative presentation.
Entering the gallery, one is immediately sandwiched between Tracy Miller’s two large-scale canvasses, Skirt (2017) and Stairs (2014), placed not for optimal viewing in a traditional sense but more in an effort to immerse the eye in Miller’s whirling exchange of meticulously painted, witty, and recognizable details. A stunned fish on a tray, a halved grapefruit, or a segment of Blue Willow ceramic vie for visual primacy with abstracted confections, fabric patterns, and pure color blotches and rings. Jammed into Miller’s picture plane, we discard composition in favor of flow, which is the overall sensation of Broken Dishes. There is no sense that each artist is accorded territory in the gallery: Miller’s paintings simply take up more space because they are bigger, and her smaller paintings are nimbly inserted into selections of Pam Cardwell’s small canvases and voluminous abstractions on paper. Comparison of the two painters’ works is inevitable, and Cardwell’s vehicle of expression is a darker and more erratic line, snaking and writhing across the page, enclosing and emanating fields of pigment, as in the fierce Red, Yellow and Blue (2020). Her paintings codify this in more evenly and opaquely laid down layers of color; the lilliputian GW9 (2020) is awkwardly placed at floor level but worth kneeling down to examine. Unlike Miller, whose work flickers and plays with sporadic moments of familiarity, Cardwell’s small paintings hover between Post-Impressionism and Ab Ex, and her larger pastels imply diagrams that have turned their backs on inscribed meaning and instead are beginning to, with a rather sinister turn, embrace a nihilistic entropy: Green Lines (2020) seems to present a roadmap whose highways and turnpikes have grown weary and started to sag.
Softness on the cusp of suture. The quick quilt will be somewhere. Patchwork tends us. Fissure/crazing occurs. Small disasters have to be repaired (or not).
Charity Coleman’s poem wraps a hoop of steel around the disparate stylistic and conceptual subtexts linking and unlinking in Broken Dishes. The aim of the show, if we take the poet at her word, is oddly aggressive—to almost force into concert a set of works that emerge from different sources. This is most noticeable in the works of Cardwell and Miller that are placed in tight groupings—literally patched together—in the front and back spaces of the gallery. Shaver’s work, largely because of its three-dimensionality, maintains a safe distance. But because it looms into the space itself, and is at times reflective with appliquéd mirrors, or permeable, because of a web of colorful fabric laces tied across an industrial implement of inscrutable nature, as in Drawing #26 (2011), it too actively engages with the other works. Shaver’s Broken Dishes Cupboard (1900–1930, with additions by the artist) is a banal rectangular medicine cabinet, encrusted with fragments of plates, mugs, and sundry vessels. The skin of this cabinet is an act of suturing itself—the jagged bits become a continuous surface to the simple form—but the eccentric lines that are formed by the edges, almost a nod to Cardwell’s tortured pastel lines, remove any sense of regularity, quietude, or aesthetic unity. In moving through the exhibition, the viewer experiences Shaver’s three-dimensional accumulations of found objects built upon and festooned with unexpected debris and color as anchors around which the other two artists’ two-dimensional works seem to cluster. This instigates in the mind a process of finding, looking, and abstracting which at times overwhelms the individual works. The solution is simple, though: to look harder.