On ViewCatskill Art Space
Samuelle Green, Judith Henry & Lizzie Wright
February 4–March 18, 2023
Livingston Manor, NY
In October 2022, the Catskill Art Society opened its expanded and renovated space on Main Street, Livingston Manor, and renamed itself the Catskill Art Space. It showcases three installations on view through 2027 in its second-floor galleries—James Turrell’s Avaar (1982); Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #991 and Wall Drawing #992 (both 2001); sculptor Francis Cape’s A Gathering of Utopian Benches (2011–12)—and on the ground floor photographer Ellen Brooks’s Hang, 2023, is on view through 2023. The first floor features rotating exhibitions of contemporary artists.
The current group show includes two women, Lizzie Wright and Samuelle Green, who have made the Delaware watershed their home. Judith Henry is based in New York. Each artist presents visually arresting works backed up by challenging ideas. Green’s sculptures and installations are an inquiry into natural forms and our relationship with them. Henry’s paintings and figurines explore the disconnect between cultural representation and our inner lives. Wright transforms her dense materials into ethereal structures on the verge of dissolving. The throughline for all three artists is an insistence that what we overlook, reject, or discard is precisely what we need to connect with.
To that end, their practices repurpose everyday objects. Green’s installation, marshmallow polypore (2023), includes pages from old books that the artist rolls into cones to create two structures that fill up the room. The title comes from Green’s fascination with natural forms, and the result does look like two enormous fungi or coral reefs. One structure has its own cavern, perfect for that wayward octopus or insect looking to find a home. While her installation shares superficial similarities with Tara Donovan’s structures, Green’s sensibility comes from a different place. Donovan emphasizes the industrial sameness of her mass-produced elements to suggest affinities with Post-Minimalism and Process art. The discarded book pages that build marshmallow polypore are all the same size, but each announces its own character as a separate book page with a past that connects to the world beyond the gallery. Green varies the color of her pages from one section to another, something Donovan would never do, to celebrate the infinite subtlety of the natural world that so often goes unnoticed.
Henry incorporates all kinds of scraps into her installation Casting Call (2017–22). Occupying two walls, Casting Call incorporates dozens of small figurines, some no more than four or six inches tall. Made from used buttons, cloth, string, magazine cut-outs, paint, bits of plastic, and more, no two are alike; each has its special charm. A standout looks like Plankton, the villain from SpongeBob SquarePants, with one staring eye and two cloth arms crossed in defiance, asking “What are you looking at?” These are more than just cute-looking little dolls, and Henry embraces silliness to make a serious point. We are all different, obviously, but what differentiates us are our “defects.” More to the point, these are what make us interesting. Self-love means shedding the agony of conforming to some arbitrary ideal borrowed from peers or the media (Instagram!) to embrace our peculiarities. Casting Call says, “Come as you are and join the parade!”
Discovering the found materials in Wright’s sculptures takes a little more looking but they are there. Mailbox (2021) standing about four feet high with its domed top, does look like a glass mailbox. The long bolts jutting out of its sides bring on the awkward “Frankenstein” quality of her work, alluded to in the press release. At the same time, the lighting coming from within dematerializes the sculpture with a soft even glow. Peeking inside the piece between the bolted-on plates of glass reveals two yardsticks attached to the mounts for the lighting. What are they doing there? What else is hiding in these sculptures? It turns out the glass plates in Wright’s work come from old windowpanes that she melts down into thick sheets and imprints with tire tracks. Tire tracks are literally all over her work, from the works on paper to her sculpture. Tire tracks are so common—so fleeting no one thinks about them—but it is hard to think of another emblem that brings together so many American obsessions, from crime forensics to the promise of “freedom” traveling on endless highways. The rough poetry of Wright’s work goads us, as does Green’s and Henry’s, to give up the habits of mind and eye that cloud our understanding.