The Jewel Thief

Saratoga Springs

at Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery


Artworks are hung salon-style to dizzying heights, or piled one on top of another. Boundaries blur between architecture, furniture and art. Portions of walls are painted lime green or blazing orange, and the floor is partly covered with sharp- angled sections of linoleum and floral carpeting. Augmenting standard spotlights are chandeliers by Virgil Martí, Jorge Pardo and, most modestly, Jessica Stockholder, who, together with the help of Tang chief curator Ian Berry, orches- trated this extravaganza. Called “The Jewel Thief,” their exhi- bition brings together a clamorously diverse array of work—all deemed “abstract” for the purpose—by 60 artists.

The installation’s most striking feature is a parade of six cubes that progress, Goldilocks style, from very small to way too big. They are arranged in size order, the littlest (it is 2 feet on a side) supporting a single, fabulously detailed ceramic sculpture by Kathy Butterly (Higher, 2008). The largest, 13 feet in every dimension, is covered on two sides with gray-scale camouflage by Jim Hodges (Oh Great Terrain, 2002). Another side bears a 1988 machine-knitted image by Rosemarie Trockel, featuring a well-known optical teaser: a duck’s head read one way, a rabbit read the other. More illusions appear on top of this cube, in the form of painted faux wood paneling sportily detailed in bright colors by Richard Woods. On top of that rests Stephen Dean’s Prayer Mill (2007), which looks like a postcard rack stocked with little sheets of tinted glass. This scintillating object can be seen only from atop portable bleachers set up in the museum’s entry area, where they share space with some usable Styrofoam, vinyl and concrete-block seating (2006-08) by James Hyde, its swanky funk much indebted to Franz West.

The 8-foot cube has white satin swag wallpaper by Martí on two sides (2009) and, on the other two, Elana Herzog’s grid of stapled and torn bits of fabric, whose ascending horizontals seem to make the whole tip slightly, like a listing ship (Romancing the Rock, 2010). A framed rectangle of stained velvet by Polly Apfelbaum, Seeing Spots (1999), hangs on one of Herzog’s surfaces. John Torreano’s 2010 Dark Matter, a night-sky painting twinkling with glass jewels, is executed on one side of another large cube, and
his big enameled and gold-leafed wooden Diamonds (1985-2010) are scattered on top of it; they are among the few works that have a direct link to the show’s cryptic title. Swallowing one corner of the gallery is another: Liz Larner’s Her Diamond Deserts (2004-05), a floor-to-ceiling installation in black paper that suggests the open mouth of a sperm whale. Inside are Larner’s porcelain “gems,” fragmentary and white as bleached bones.

Felicitous juxtapositions abound. Two lush grid paintings by Stanley Whitney flank a gorgeous, Monet-like Joan Snyder, hung very high; a mostly black, striped painting by Richmond Burton shaped like the end of a sharpened pencil is also part of this sequence, which is arranged above a set of eccentrically geometric sculpture/platforms in various materials—a second contribution by Stockholder. This one is much like the set of platforms she made for her 2009 installation in Manhattan’s Madison Square Park (bleachers appeared there, too).

Other standouts include work by sculptor Charles Long and painters Carrie Moyer and Chris Martin. Among surprise inclusions are Sherrie Levine, Joan Mitchell (a painting from 1955), Dorothy Dehner (a steel sculpture from 1987-89 installed outside the museum, and a 1954 drawing within) and Anni Albers (two undated screenprints, one prim and one psychedelic). In an interview conducted for the museum’s website, Stockholder admits that some artists might be rankled by the liberties she has taken, which do exceed those in the common run of artist-organized shows. Several themes threading through her stream-of-consciousness narrative “The Jewel Thief,” published in the exhibition’s handout, are shared by the curatorial exercise: covetousness, seduction, a bandit with boundary problems. But the tension between curator and participants, such as it is, only adds to the show’s energy. (All of the artists on hand for a November symposium seemed delighted to have been included.) Assembled from unlike parts—just like Stockholder’s own sculptures—“The Jewel Thief” is a sharply faceted and deeply luminous whole.

[A catalogue with essays by Barry Schwabsky and Steven Henry Madoff, Stockholder’s narrative, and specially commissioned photographs of the installation is forthcoming.]

Photos: Views of the exhibition “The Jewel Thief,” 2010; at the Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery.