Thursday, September 23, 2010

Edward Lane McCartney at Goldesberry Gallery

I had seen Edward Lane McCartney's work before at Goldesberry and in a group show at Gallery 1724. The thing to remember about McCartney is that he is something of a crossover artist. He is a jeweler, which is to say he works in a form of art often associated with "craft." But he also creates objects that can only be thought of as sculpture. Despite the wall between "craft" and "art" that has existed since at least since Vasari, there are craftspeople who work very hard at making the distinction meaningless. We saw that at Hand+Made. There are other seeming contradictions in McCartney's work. He is a jeweler, skilled in shaping fine pieces of metal into rings, bracelets, necklaces and broaches. But he is just as likely to make jewelry out of plastic cable ties as gold. Some of his materials are extremely humble, and some would count as found objects. As a sculptor, he is in many of his pieces primarily and assemblagist.

Edward Lane McCarthy, Don't Ask...Don't Tell, steel, plastic army men, cable ties, paint

He has used tiny plastic army men in his sculptures before. You know the type--you could order them from comic books back in my childhood. This piece is quite large, and from a distance appears to be a rough but textured triangle of some undetermined material. You can only tell they're army men when you get in close.

Edward Lane McCarthy, Don't Ask...Don't Tell detail, steel, plastic army men, cable ties, paint

As a piece of political art, it's not subtle (but it is very timely!).  McCartney's weakness is his obviousness. Particularly when addressing issues where there is clearly a right and wrong side. For example, Wolves in Sheep's Clothing.

Edward Lane McCarthy, Wolves in Sheep's Clothing, acrylic, brass, copper, sterling steel, paint and photographs

Here's a detail.

Edward Lane McCarthy, Wolves in Sheep's Clothing detail, acrylic, brass, copper, sterling steel, paint and photographs

Get it? Here is a beautifully crafted piece with the message that priests abusing children is BAD! I am sure this is something that McCartney feels strongly about, and I certainly don't doubt for one second his sincerity. But art is most powerful, it seems to me, when it draws you into its metaphors, its subtleties, its mystery. When it leaves at least part of the  "work" ("work" that is, for me, pleasure) to the viewer. This doesn't. It has the subtlety of an antiabortion billboard on I-45.

A piece that works much better is this one.

Edward Lane McCartney, Is the Cure Worse then the Disease?, sterling silver, fine silver, transfer print on linen

This is another beautifully crafted piece, and every aspect of it refers in some way to the medical regimen that people with HIV must undergo. The title seems to indicate that McCartney has a specific beef, but the work itself is much more ambiguous.

Edward Lane McCartney, Is the Cure Worse then the Disease? detail, sterling silver, fine silver, transfer print on linen

The preciousness of the material must in some ways reflect the preciousness of the drugs--both in actual cost and in terms of what they give someone taking them--more hours and days and years. The presentation reminds me simultaneously of a rich medieval place-setting and of a sacrament. Of course the chain and cuff connected to the goblet are a reminder that you can never leave the regimen. So it is a blessing to be alive and a burden to be chained to these drugs forever.

Edward Lane McCartney, Wounded, wood, acrylic, paint, band-aids

I'll close with this witty piece, made out of the very humblest materials imaginable. When I see someone produce a piece with a strict grid, I inevitably think of Agnes Martin. But her work is calming, partly because grids are calming, and partly because of the materials and colors she used and finally I think because her grids featured horizontal rectangles instead of squares. McCartney makes his grid the opposite of calm. Aside from the obvious association of band-aids with cuts and scrapes, the rigid squares within squares don't give the viewer the feeling that the squares are resting on something. Unlike Agnes Martin, this piece doesn't suggest a landscape. Nor does it suggest a figure or a portrait. It's a true abstraction made of many small pains, a gameboard of tiny wounds.

This show is packed--there are many more pieces besides the one I have described here. McCartney is an interesting and highly skilled artist, and his work is well worth seeing.

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