Visual Goodies with an Edge

continuous-mile-detailIt is a privilege to view the exhibit of Liza Lou's beaded sculptures at L&M Arts. Lou has not had a solo show in New York since 2002, so this is not to be missed. The gallery is housed in two floors of an ornate townhouse on the Upper East Side. One has to ring the bell to be personally let in, adding to the ambiance. Upon entering the lobby one encounters two minimal sculptures, "Tower" and "Continuous Mile," (image left, detail) as well as the wall piece "Condition of Capture 1" and a small lithograph. "Tower" is a 30-foot-tall cage-like piece completely covered in white beads; it looks candy-like but a bit disturbing as it extends up the stairwell to the second floor. "Tower" is best viewed from this floor and kind of loses itself in the stairwell. I'd like to see it displayed in one room with a high enough ceiling to accommodate it. "Continuous Mile" is a white floor piece made from a mile of rope that has been formed into a three-foot high circle and covered with white beads; it brings to mind minimalist artists and the work of Jackie Windsor. The mainly orange wall piece "Condition of Capture 1" (composed of tubular beads) contrasts beautifully with the white of "Continuous Mile." This wall piece suggests a chain link fence and anticipates "Security Fence" in the next room. "Security Fence" is a stunner. It is an 8'x8' enclosed square fence completely beaded but mimicking an actual metal fence down to the barbed wire. It was interesting to look through the fence and see people on the other side; they almost appeared to be fenced in. "Security Fence" seemed too beautiful to be threatening, yet there was an underlying tension to the piece. As with Lou's other pieces in the exhibit, ideas of imprisonment, violence, and war were suggested. To create such detailed work Lou needs many hands. Three years ago she relocated her studio from Los Angeles to South Africa, where she employs a team of 30 Zulu men and women. In the upstairs lobby, directly over the spot where the white "Continuous Mile" was downstairs, there is a black "Continuous Mile," which has a completely different feel. Two of Lou's small drawings are also in this space. They are very delicate and beautiful, and it is nice to see the artist's hand come through in the work. In some ways it's amazing that the beaded work, which sometimes takes over a year to create, still has a feeling of the artist's hand in its creation. When entering the front gallery upstairs, one seems to enter a sacred space, containing four large wall reliefs and one sculpture. The reliefs are beautiful pieces that suggest Muslim prayer rugs, although there are interruptions in their patterns. These pieces are thick and dense; from a distance it's hard to tell that they are composed of beads. Lou has special beads made for the work and the colors of the beads are truly intense shades, whether white, gold, or primary colors. Although the imagery does not suggest issues of security, the titles do; for example: "Offensive/ Defensive" and "Axis Defeat." The reliefs are dazzling, but I prefer Lou's sculptural work . The one sculptural piece in this room, "Self-Portrait (Face Down)," is amazing. A white beaded pillow sits on a pedestal. There is an imprint of a face in its center. It is haunting in its detail and emotional power. The upper back gallery consists of three more wall prayer pieces, a small sculpture, and the freestanding piece "Barricade," the most arresting piece in that room -- a gold beaded divider seven feet high and nine feet wide placed diagonally across the room. It is a visual knockout. Liza Lou's "Maximum Security Fence" is on exhibit in the lobby of Lever House on Park Avenue. The feel of this glass lobby is completely different than L&M, yet this 23-foot-long piece fits well here. We are presented with a beaded X-shaped fence/cage composed of enclosed sections that cannot be entered (or exited). If one looks at the piece from the street you can see the fence, as well as, pedestrians who are reflected in the window and appear to be trapped in the piece. I can't wait to see what Liza Lou will create next. - Margaret Roleke L&M Arts - Liza Lou exhibit will be up through December 13. The Lever House Lobby is at 390 Park Avenue, New York, NY. margaret-rolekeMs. Roleke is an artist who's work has been exhibited throughout the New York Tri-State region; she is also an independent curator.