Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Cris Bruch, Elizabeth Leach Gallery, Portland

Cris Bruch’s exhibition, Gather and Wait, seduces with meticulous craft and sensuous forms that are nevertheless familiar. For anyone with a modicum of exposure to modern art, many of his sculpture call up the name of another artist, Martin Puryear, whose work has made this style of abstraction iconic. Associations can be made with Richard Rezac’s work as well; yet similarities can always be found between artists working with a particular material, and no single artist holds a monopoly on subject matter or form. It is what each artist does with the material and ideas that is ultimately judged.

In 2007, a twenty-year survey of Bruch’s work, How Did I Get Here?,  at Lawrimore Project in Seattle, solidified his position as a major artistic voice in the Northwest. Initially known for his more performance-based sculptural work, early on he was seen as more of a talented curiosity with a decidedly political narrative than the commissioned abstract artist that he has become today. Yet, even with the recent survey, images of his earliest work were missing from the numerous reviews and articles in the Leach Gallery press package, and aside from a somewhat cynical remark by one writer about money, nor was there a sufficient rationale given for Bruch’s move from the politicized to the abstract. However, Bruch’s website provided some insight:

In the 1990's, Bruch's work began to integrate issues of consumer culture and social/economic disparity with a more formal aesthetic, characterized by the use of non-traditional materials and repetitive processes. This work was informed by an awareness of the unconscious, oft-repeated actions that, to one degree or another, form our lives and define who we are.

The described process of making is clearly perceived in the work, yet as what may be a hallmark of the unconscious, the motivations are less clear. While all of the sculptures involve a certain repetitive process or a number of processes, all must certainly require a very present, precise and patient mind. More a meditation than dream, the final pieces may inspire a psychic response, yet the precision involved, particularly in some of the wooden structures, calls to mind elaborations of mathematic and geometric equations.

This observation takes nothing away from the work itself; nor is it meant to suggest that a narrative is absent as inspiration, for some of the work is figurative, which may very well spring from the unconscious. Blind (2010) looks somewhat human and therefore allows a certain level of recognition, but were Bruch to place himself inside the piece (it is built on a scale to accommodate such an action), he would be at once sightless and unseen, a peculiar yet understandable position for an artist to take, as it speaks to the ambivalence an artist may have toward an audience. And it is within this context that we might approach the exhibit’s title. The work is gathered, and we wait. For what?  Sales? Appreciation? Comprehension?

Blind (2010)

While Blind is certainly less abstract than other work in the exhibit, some pieces rely even less on abstraction. Rejoinder (2010) is comprised of two seemingly disparate aspects in its configuration. The bottom part of the piece, the plinth or shelf, if you will, is a bookcase that houses a library of books wrapped in butcher’s paper, much in the way someone would fabricate such a dust jacket for a book, the title of which one wants to keep private, thereby discouraging comments from passers by. Yet, each book has a title written on the spine that represents one in Bruch’s personal library. The top portion of the sculpture is an abstract wooden construction with the very same title, Rejoinder, from 2008, and is more minimal and very much in the style of his other curvilinear sculptures. One has to wonder why such a pairing has taken place.
Rejoinder (2010) 

Bruch has in the past worked as a carpenter, a trade at which he was/is undoubtedly very talented. The bookshelf speaks to that history and the fundamentals of the craft, and with the addition of books, is perhaps a bit ‘precious’ in more than one sense of the word. Although these books represent titles in the artist’s library, the books under the covers are in fact not his books or the tomes the jacket titles suggest. Because Bruch did not wish to part with his property, the bargain books on the shelf are merely there as part of the piece and as such, for sale. Still, the artist very much wants the viewer to know personal details that are more literal than figurative, and even less an abstract representation of a concept.

The two halves of Rejoinder may illustrate a conflict of sorts for Bruch, occasionally, or increasingly reconsidering from whence he came, and wondering if there is a way to bring some of those earlier, more explicitly social impulses back into his work.

Other work in the exhibit:

12/12 Roofscape (2008)

Drumlin (2010) 

Rube (2010)

Tussle (2010)

Freshet (2010)


Ten Mile said...

Nice review.

Which brings to mind two questions:

a. Job possibilities?
b. Nibbles on selling the home place?

bastinptc said...

Thanks TM. To answer: baby steps, but no.