A Room of His Own 

Artist redefines gallery space with new walls, large scale works

Artist redefines gallery space with new walls, large scale works

From Demons to Desire: New Works by David Holland

Through May 20

Ruby Green Contemporary Arts Foundation

514 Fifth Ave. S.

Hours: noon-6 p.m. Wed.-Sat.

For information, call 244-7179

Art exhibitions don’t usually require physical caution, but in the interest of safely navigating David Holland’s object-based installation, I’m offering this bit of advice: Watch your head and don’t trip. Holland has restructured Ruby Green gallery by adding two new walls. One partition has a door just over 5 feet tall, and the new space Holland has created with the wall is bisected by a sturdy metal cable that dips almost to the floor before ascending to the ceiling.

Chris Campbell, gallery director and cofounder, says patrons had a lot of interactive fun with the space opening night. ”Everyone was gathered out in the lobby—because the opening in the new [front] wall hadn’t been cut yet,“ she says.

That job was left to Holland himself. Dressed in a dark-blue industrial uniform, he mingled with the opening-night crowd, most of whom didn’t know the artist was among them. Then he stepped forward with a wallboard saw and went to work opening the exhibit by creating a door in the new wall. The job of opening the short door in the second wall, located at the rear of the gallery, was left to the opening-night crowd. A dotted line on that wall served as a cutting guide, and three drywall saws hanging to one side provided the means for opening-night patrons to carve their way through to the final section of the exhibit. ”It didn’t take someone long to pick up the saws,“ Campbell says. ”Pretty soon, there were several people sawing away.“

While Holland’s performance and the interactive opening sound like a blast, the show itself loses nothing when assessed on visual merits alone. There are approximately eight actual works ranging in size from over 12 feet tall to less than 12 inches in height. The centerpiece objects are three monumental works installed in the main space, while smaller works are displayed on the lobby walls. Holland’s opening-night work clothes and saw, as well as his mathematical calculations and notes on each work, are displayed in the small room beyond that very short door.

Holland has a degree in civil engineering and pursued a career in that field before earning a BFA from the Corcoran School of Art and an MFA from Washington University in St. Louis. Each of the works in this show seems to express the duality of the artist’s training, as well as his personal passions and demons.

In ”The Conundrum—The House My Father Built,“ for example, Holland has built a white frame house, complete down to the tiny asphalt roof shingles. The house, over 3 feet tall and about 5 feet at its widest part, has four wings, and the eye quickly fits them together in the shape of a cross. Then the viewer notices that the perfect miniature house lacks doors and windows. According to Campbell, Holland’s father was a preacher who deserted the family when the artist was 12 years old, but even without that bit of personal knowledge, the blank-walled house conveys a disturbing sense of abandonment and dysfunction.

More lighthearted is the 12-foot-tall whirligig of a construction titled ”Mr. Hattlerack Manufactures His Own Bride.“ Fashioned of a vintage French bottle rack in metal, two wooden hat racks, and the skeletal remains of a fringed patio umbrella, the work is Holland’s homage to the art of Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968). In particular it references ”Bottle Rack“ (1914) and ”Hat Rack“ (1917), two of the French artist’s so-called ready-mades, works that used everyday objects as statements in and of themselves rather than for aesthetic appeal. In his own work, however, Holland conjoins the bottle rack and hat racks and runs them both through with the base of the patio umbrella, creating a work of enormous visual intricacy that also sparks images of a mad scientist/artist creating a life form from cast-off furniture. According to Campbell, Holland is working on an even larger version of the work, to be installed outdoors in his home base of Milwaukee.

The other large-scale work in the show gives a nod to ”Torso,“ a famous sculpture by Constantin Brancusi (1876-1957). As in Brancusi’s work, Holland celebrates the shape, though not the reality, of the human torso and the beginnings of the neck and arms that extend from it. Holland’s work, which stands over 12 feet tall, is called ”I Am of My Father as He Is of His Father’s Father“ and consists of three interlocking wooden forms held together with metal brackets. Other nods to Brancusi are displayed in the lobby area and include a slender polished silver column called ”Bird,“ which references Brancusi’s ”Bird in Space“ series (1925-36), and ”Allure,“ which alludes to Brancusi’s ”Fish“ series (1922-30) in its stylized stone fish that dangles real fish hooks.

All of these references and inspirations are spelled out in the final portion of the installation, which is reached via the short door in the temporary wall at the rear of the main space. Holland’s worksheets on the various pieces in the show are displayed on one wall for the viewer to flip through. The sheets feature photocopies of Brancusi’s and Duchamp’s sculptures, text concerning them, and Holland’s detailed calculations for constructing his own works. His performance art equipment—uniform, cap, saws—and the jigs used as guides in constructing his works are displayed on the opposite wall.

According to Campbell, the artist resists calling this an installation, preferring to define it as an exhibition of objects he has installed in the space. Nevertheless, Holland’s objects feed off each other and off the space itself in a way that supports a subtle theme of how creativity is nourished by others’ art and by one’s own demons and desires—and that comes very close to fitting most definitions of installation art.

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