I saw a great exhibit last week by artist Kirsten Hassenfeld at the Bell Gallery at Brown University last week. These pristine and monumental constructions were made entirely of paper and foamboard, with surface textures like bleached white sheets, fresh set plaster, eggshells, or a piece of fine drawing paper. The curves and lighting were elegant and simple, but the pieces were full of surprises. The longer I looked, the more I saw. Intricate little paper figures, impossibly tiny paper chains, cameos beautifully drawn in layered paper and a little paper spider. And as I looked at them in the quiet gallery, they slowly turned on their suspended wires, which made the floor seem to shift under my feet. But so subtly that it was relaxing, rather than disorienting.
In a way, they reminded me of seeing Lee Bontecou's mobiles at her 2004 MOMA retrospective. Hassenfelds's work though, while capturing some of the weightless presence of Bontecou, is so meticulously crafted that the wonder of how it was created almost distracts from the overall work, while Bontecou's pieces have a quality of always having existed. But then I'm so biased towards Bontecou that a comparison is almost unfair.
I then distanced myself from the aesthetic quality of the work in order to see if it were true, as a reviewer stated, that she used
"many of the same materials you might find in a grade-school art class: heavy-duty construction paper, translucent vellum (also a kind of paper) and lightweight poster-board, along with a bit of tape and glue to hold it all together. Add up the cost of everything in the Bell show and you’d barely have enough to pay for a typical opening-night party at a New York gallery."Reading this before I saw the show, I found it hard to believe that Hassenfeld would put the effort into these pieces using such impermanent materials. On inspecting the work, I could tell she used archival material throughout, not a trace of construction paper, poster board or tape. In reading the catalog, she stated that she was only able to fabricate the massive pieces of thick archival foamboard by using a computer-guided laser paid for by a grant from the Pollock-Krasner Foundation. In other words, this installation costs significantly more than an opening night party. Good to know that though she may be a bit obsessive to make those tiny little chains, she wasn't crazy enough to make them out of paper that was bound to fall apart. We want these lovely objects to stay around for awhile.
The exhibit is up until November 1.