The gaping street-level space of the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery, attached to the Aronoff Center for the Arts, is windowed on two sides, capped by two ceiling heights (high and higher), set with columns and interrupted by a staircase to the floor below and above. It’s a difficult space that moves some artists into a creative frenzy of response. But not Melissa Vogley Woods, whose Grammatical Errors currently occupies the area handily and, for the most part, serenely unaware of surroundings. (Two videos may be exceptions; more on them later.)
Woods is deeply involved in relationships of what she calls “the form and materials of the common house,” and how those elements in her hands can become “messy, malignant, hazardous and bad,” as depicted in her artist’s statement. She is a gleeful deconstructionist, accomplishing things one hardly knows the materials are capable of. Paint, in particular, can leave its base to become a skin with stretchability built in. Who knew?
The first piece to catch your eye, entering from the Walnut Street door, might be “Tilted Ground, in Position,” in which a house paint skin is essential to the work. A pine table stands on one end, its four legs parallel to the floor, the surface chiseled open to a degree that cancels out any normal function of tables. The tabletop has, instead, become a frame for the pink flesh of paint, set off by a bouquet of real flowers that have been dried and coated with paint layers. The flowers fill holes made by shooting the paint surface with a bow and arrow — we have to take the artist’s word on this — and the flowers themselves are held in place with more paint. We’ve come a long way from a vase of flowers on a table.
Unsupported paint is also the predominate element for “Falling Room,” in which lengths of pink, green and orange paint, meant to represent studs in a wall, droop from their supports to the chair to which they are pinned. Impermanence is a fact of life.
Woods doesn’t waste materials. Deeper in the gallery we find the wooden section removed from the aforementioned table of “Tilted Ground,” now serving as support for a pine chair that has exaggerated bent loops for a back and holds on its seat a lyrical twist of pale green foam. This piece is called “To Hold the Snare;” its base is a wood frame like the studs that are the bones of a wall. Nearby, for “Gesture is Liquid and Slippery Depending On Your Perspective,” Woods has dissected a bed to form a propped up, lean-to shelter, a sleeping bag handy beneath what’s left of the mattress. Moving farther indoors for “Digging Out from Inside Blue Dresser Depressor,” we see the most intimate of household furniture gouged out to its blue-painted interior. In “Reclining Nude Has a Few Remarks,” all the luscious nudes who have reclined for the benefit of male artists through time get their own back by becoming the limp and bored elements of a skeleton of a room.
A nice addition to the show is a line of the artist’s process drawings for the works seen here; more are available for viewing in the gallery office. These drawings let us see Woods’ thinking develop; close attention to details of the bedroll, for instance, may send you back to look at it again.
She’s also included a surprise ending. Downstairs, tucked under the stairway, is the final piece: “If Walls Could Break Themselves.” It’s a portion of house wall, folded in on itself, providing a wrap for things unidentified within.
But those aforementioned videos, “Monochrome Suite” and “Polychrome Suite,” what’s going on there? In each, large bare feet appear, moving carefully but sensuously through space that, if I read it right, mimics the gallery itself in greatly reduced scale. Is this Woods’ reaction to the invitation to show there? I’d like to think so.
All works in the exhibition were created in 2013 and indicate that Woods is having a fine time dispensing with received notions of materials. Her “grammatical errors” are intended, witty and thought provoking. I have to quibble that understanding Woods’ work almost requires her notes on each piece. I thought the art itself was supposed to supply the artist’s end of dialogue with viewer.
GRAMMATICAL ERRORS is on view at the Alice F. and Harris K. Weston Art Gallery, 650 Walnut St., Downtown, through Feb. 23. Woods’ gallery talk takes place at 7 p.m. Jan. 29. More information at cincinnatiarts.org/weston-art-gallery.