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Phyllis Green
at Otis College of Art and Design, Ben Maltz Gallery, Los Angeles, California
Preview by Andy Brumer

Phyllis Green is a sculptor who blends in traditional craft materials in a manner that is playfully subversive.

This exhibition of over forty objects, dating from 1985 to the present, represents the first large-scale survey of the sculptures of the extraordinarily innovative Phyllis Green. It not only celebrates her the art, but also the important contributions she has made to the Southern California region as an art teacher, curator and arts activist.

Though one can safely refer to Green as a sculptor who blends traditional crafts and sculptural materials into mixed-media works, any such singular definition of her output undermines the protean energy, trickster-like quality and playfully subversive perspective of her oeuvre. For example, calling it “assemblage” overlooks the sumptuous beauty of the individual components in each work (whether ceramic, wood, cloth, cement or metal, among other materials and media). Think of Green’s work as “craft,” and it rightfully demands to be recognized as high art. Praise its technical sophistication and virtuosity, its often-clever art historical homages, “conversations” and allusions, and it humbly reasserts its earthy roots and its unpretentious simplicity.                  

The earliest work in the show consists of several small scale constructions made of wood, concrete polymer and in some cases, copper wire suggestive both of human skeletal parts and perhaps fossilized twigs and branches. Pieces titled “Reach,” “Mystery Object” and “Dialogue” (all from 1985) sing with a kind of spiritualized geometry and lyricism suggestive of Brancusi. As the late 1980’s moved into the early 90’s, Green’s work grew larger in scale, with the artist adding ceramic, fabric, flocking and other materials in her constructions.

“Siren (Red Dress)” (1993) presents a bright red pre-Colombian looking object, suggestive of a human pelvis, sitting on a small table covered and draped with a tasseled black cloth. A thick tube rises from this body at the work’s centerpiece, at once an erect phallus and a middle finger extended in a somewhat ridiculous gesture of Dada-like deviance.  

A 2001 piece titled “Duchamp Party” echoes the French Surrealist’s 1914 iconic readymade bottle rack. However, rather than designed to hold wine (a symbol of patriarchal connoisseurship), where we would expect to find bottles, Green places places several ceramic female heads of tightly braided curls suggestive of Medusa. While looking into the eyes of the Greek mythical figure turned her victims to stone, Green’s piece offers a kind of parallel metaphorical warning that valuing women as objects of pleasurable consumption results in its own dire consequences.

Several pieces from the period 2002 to 2007 place small objects made by the artist in front of monitors playing short videos in which this same object has been digitally rendered as an actor in the animated action.  

And to think, all of this comes from the mind, hands and imagination of just one artist!

Curated by independent curators Jo Lauria and Tim Christian, the show will include a full color catalog (not available until February) containing their essays as well as those by independent curator and Drexel University professor Sue Spaid, and Doug Harvey, artist, curator and critic for the LA Weekly.

Published courtesy of ArtSceneCal ©2011

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