Pillar of Salt: A Glance Back
June 1 – July 1, 2023
When Bill first suggested the idea of a “retrospective” show of Lauren’s work, I knew it was worth exploring. The concept of a retrospective show for a commercial gallery is different than that of a museum; we would curate with available work from the studio, not from existing collections. So Lauren invited us by the studio and her home to look at what we were working with. Tell the story of Lauren’s more than three decades of artistic explorations in large-scale figurative and narrative sculpture – provocative, all of it – in just 3500 square feet of gallery space. What were we thinking?
But then again, for an artist who has spent her career investigating the peculiarities of the Judeo/Christian legacy and whose aesthetic veers enigmatically towards that of old Italian Catholicism, why not fill a room to the brim with symbols, stories, and icons re-envisioned and reinterpreted for our current time? So here we are.
Lead. Sinew. Clay. Steel. Porcelain. Glass. Enamel. Rubber. Leather. Wax. Salt. Needles. Graphite. Bedsheets. Iron. Gold. Artificial Grass. Silk. Water. Resin. Fiberglass. Flame.
For Lauren Grossman, materials and meaning are inextricable. One informs the other and vice versa. So with language and form, and present and past. This symbiosis makes Lauren’s artwork hard to parse out as there is never a single point of view. Instead, she layers meaning upon meaning, playing with symbolism and metaphors like a poet. Her imagery and narratives engage a dialog about a – somehow – universal feeling of religiosity and an urge to make these odd, arcane biblical stories relevant to our modern life. At the same time, her well-worn industrial materials convey a sense of history and a reworking of old sources in the light of the present moment.
Wife, for example. A woman’s standing torso (a greek goddess? a dress form? a doll?) is cast in iron in two parts and set atop the rolling base of an office chair. A series of handles around her hips. She is a life-size salt grinder. But her function requires your labor. Take hold of one of her handles and circumambulate her, adding to the growing tower of salt at her feet as you do. The repetitive physical action recalls obliquely the ritual motion of praying the rosary, climbing the spiral stairs at a Buddhist temple, or daily prayers to Mecca. It begs the question: what does it mean now to turn this stationary woman’s iron torso? Lauren doesn’t ever answer the question, but she suggests some potent notions. Notions that linger and pick at your brain and reappear like deja-vu in future moments.
And that has always been the case. Lauren engages us in an ambiguous and rich dialog with her sculptures. Their awkward, uncertain beauty conveys earnest attention to material, meaning, and her consistent endeavors to find contemporary poignancy in the oddness and curious beauty of old conventions.
We couldn’t be more proud to welcome Lauren Grossman back to Traver Gallery with this important and timely exhibition, Pillar of Salt; A Glance Back.