Blow Up, 2014, Steel, glass, rubber, aluminum, leather
50″ x 30″ x 23″. Photo: courtesy Platform Gallery
Lauren Grossman is a good example of a recovered ceramic artist who successfully transitioned decades ago to other materials. Her recent exhibit at Platform suggested why. For Grossman, the choice of materials is always symbolic or tied to the ideas that interest her. One wouldn’t think that glass and lead could be metaphors for life and death, but in Grossman’s skilled hands, they become that and more. Breath-as in first and last-is the unifying idea for the survey, her 16th show since moving to Seattle in 1981 to attend the Graduate School of Art at the University of Washington. The free-form glass shapes are joined to various fabricated or off-the-shelf metal parts that echo Victorian scientific laboratory apparatus or bizarre human/machine hybrids. King (2013), for example, has wobbly bronze legs beneath a clear glass head and neck with a mink and rubber collar. Upshot (2014), among the more convincing figurative works, reduces the figure to a big glass balloon of a head above two surmounted, found instrument tripods, which seem to mimic arms and legs. By contrast, Blow Up, Lacunae, and Babel Study (all 2014) place individual, elongated glass thought-bubbles in thickets of metal-, leather- and rubber-jointed webs. What is symbolic here? The captive mind, to use Czesław Miłosz’s phrase about hopelessly brainwashed people? Clear air? Surely more than breath.
Given enough rope, Grossman’s dark side always comes to the fore and Whimper, probably about lung cancer, is a good example. The steel-wool clumps inside the eerie glass lungs on either side of an articulated, upright red garden hose give the piece a jolting power. When Grossman is dark, she is rarely subtle. A few of the other works-for instance, Accidental Leviathan (2013), and Blow Out 1 and 2 (2014)-do not seem as sculpturally developed beyond finding a support for given blown-glass shapes done during a residency at Pilchuck Glass School. But in general, there is a welcome reinforcing of materials with ideas. In the past, Grossman has exhausted religion, moved onto the body and health, and could confront the environment next. As the new work attests, her doggedly individualistic vision will define the terms.