Some Assembly Required
The Structure of Dreams at Exhibit/208
By Steven Robert Allen
While wandering through the current Exhibit/208 show, it's fun to take the title of the exhibit at face value. It sounds New Agey, doesn't it? A little bit hazy and softcore? My thoughts exactly, but I have to admit that this title provides a fascinating filter for Gary Wellman's sculptures.
The Albuquerque artist recently won the prestigious Pollack-Krasner Award. Wellman largely works with various types of wood, smoothed and shaped in a manner similar to the effect the ocean's surge and pounding has on driftwood. He tells me that he's salvaged this wood from all over the western half of the country. Some pieces he stains. Others he simply coats with beeswax and orange oil to bring out the natural tones of the wood. His newer pieces also incorporate other elements—bronze, antlers, aluminum.
Regardless of the medium, the pieces in this show all make use of a similar type of contouring. Individual elements curve and spiral, terminating in sharp slender points or plump knobs.
At first glance, the pieces look organic, balanced, harmonious. A closer examination reveals that there's something just slightly off about most of them, something a bit jarring and unexpected, a deliberate atonality. Most of these sculptures are composed of multiple pieces, slim bits inserted into holes in other pieces, conjoined in ways that don't really seem natural. In this sense, Wellman's work does reflect the structure of a dream—perfectly sensical when you first experience it, but incongruous and puzzling when you're thinking about it later.
"It was fun to watch him putting this together," says Russell Hamilton, one of the owners of the Nob Hill gallery, referring to Core, a large black piece filling up a front alcove. "It was sort of like watching someone put together a bicycle on Christmas morning. Maybe this one's like a performance piece. It might come out different every time it's reassembled."
Many of the sculptures look like psychedelic puzzles. Some hang from the ceiling like otherworldly spiders dangling from the ends of silk threads. Others rest on pedestals, or are attached directly to the walls.
One of the more alluring smaller pieces in the show is "Impulse," a cute creation that sprouts a bunch of curious blobby growths on its back, making it look like some kind of inexplicable quantum happening, or maybe an oceanic creature that will scuttle off its pedestal in search of the nearest shoreline when you aren't looking.
A piece called "The Structure of Dreams," which hangs from the ceiling by the entrance to the bathroom, epitomizes the dissonant quality of much of the work. Constructed of bronze, antlers and various woods, the piece consists of turquoise colored tusks and white spines and a dark yellow ball, coming together with a kind of intriguing discomfort. This might not signify waking up screaming in a cold sweat, but then again it isn't exactly a sweet dream filled with sugar plums and dancing fairies either.
I think I prefer these hanging pieces to the ones rooted to a flat surface. I like the way they play with gravity, the way they move slightly under the spell of subtle air currents pushing through the gallery. It seems appropriate that this work is floating in space, up and away, almost out of reach—as if they might dissolve, suddenly, and you'll only remember bits and pieces when they're gone.
The Structure of Dreams, an exhibit featuring sculptures by Gary Wellman, runs through Feb. 25 at Exhibit/208 (208 Dartmouth NE). The gallery is open Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. and by appointment. 266-4292.
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