Though he trained as a painter at the Columbus College of Art & Design in Ohio, Fred Holland spent his early career as a choreographer and performer, dancing with, among others, the Zero Moving Dance Company and Meredith Monk before returning to the visual arts in the 1990s. Recognized at the outset for art that focuses on issues of racial identity, Holland has since produced a less overt, more metaphorical body of sculptural installations that take up the themes of death and rebirth.
The works in Holland’s most recent show comprised objects such as yams, animal organs and chicken feet commingled with man-made materials. Their positioning—kissing the ceilings, perched high in corners, or suspended from rubber straps over the reception desk—consistently carried the eyes upward, echoing the uplifting quality of the works themselves. The wall piece FH#113 (Another Continent), 2009, for instance, features a solitary sprouted yam, its skin coated in gold leaf. The shimmering surface comes to life despite pocked skin and dark, withered shoots that appeared to meander up the walls of the gallery’s bathroom (where, surprisingly, the piece was installed). Themes of constraint and release are conjured in Colon II (2009). In that work, half of a length of coiled rope is tightly encased in a Plexiglas box hung high on the wall, but the other half escapes the box’s confines, cascading down the wall and resting on the floor.
The centerpiece of the show was FH#100 (2006-09), a strangely exuberant installation of replicas of the discarded medical equipment that Holland collects on his nocturnal walks through Manhattan. Made out of pale blue Styrofoam strips held together by toothpicks, these empty wheelchairs, broken walkers, crutches and oxygen tanks morphed into a spectral orchestration—a linear medley of curves, slender angles, spindly legs and porous planes. The installation recalls works by artists such as Mona Hatoum and Louise Bourgeois that include wheelchairs and crutches and address themes of constraint, illness and physical infirmity. In contrast, Holland’s objects, in their weightlessness and celestial hue, appear liberated from their original purpose. As a result, the potentially ominous ensemble paradoxically energized the room. It conjured movement and was momentarily suggestive of an improvisational dance.
Photo: Fred Holland: FH#100, 2006-09, Styrofoam and toothpicks, dimensions variable; at Tilton.