“Living in the Timeless: Drawings by Beatrice Wood” at Santa Barbara Museum of Art


Watercolor, colored pencil
Photo: courtesy SBMA, Museum purchase
The Esther Bear Memorial Fund

This exhibition at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art (through August 31) celebrates the impish, Dada-influenced drawings and ceramic sculpture of Beatrice Wood, whose reputation is based primarily on her colorful lusterware pottery. Wood received early encouragement as an artist from her close friend Marcel Duchamp, and these drawings and ceramic sculptures-recently given to SBMA by art historian and collector Francis Naumann-display a cheekiness that’s one part surrealism, and two parts coquetry. Whether she is reveling in the way that two simple curves can come together to suggest a shapely butt, or tossing off another of her seemingly endless double entendres, in her drawings at least, Wood rarely strays from the well-worn path of sexual innuendo. The series of drawings titled Touching Certain Things portrays various facets of her relationship with Helen Freeman, the actress who served as Wood’s confidant and travel companion in the early 1930s. In a deliciously ironic juxtaposition, the exhibit pairs these drawings of Freeman with a vitrine containing three ceramic sculptures of the same vintage, two of which depict Wood and her second husband, Steven Hoag, as an awkward and comical version of the classic wedding cake decoration figures of man and wife. The third piece in the same case is an erotically charged ceramic portrait of Freeman, topless and very fetching.

From the point of view of form, Wood’s works on paper rely heavily on a handful of estrangement techniques. She likes the way that overlapping figures can use the same line twice, and some of her finest effects derive from this trick of multiple implied perspective. The limbs of her figures often float free of their associated torsos. In Dance Craze (1982), this technique fetishizes the leg in a way that draws the viewer’s attention to the upper thigh and suggests, through implication, adjacent regions. Never one to pull back from what her contemporaries might have considered taboo, Wood went her own way. With “Living in the Timeless,” visitors get to follow her on what was clearly a wild ride.