by Frank Cebulski
Bedford Gallery in Walnut Creek commissioned the internationally renowned artist Crystal Wagner to create Flux, large-scale, site-specific installation for its rotunda-shaped exhibition space. The artist is known for colorful organic sculptures formed of chicken wire and bright plastic strips of disposable tablecloths, materials that she recycles by reusing them in new installations. Among her outstanding projects are a solo exhibition at the National Museum of Singapore, a large-scale installation with the rock band, The Flaming Lips, and a 117-foot installation at Viacom’s Times Square headquarters. After earning an MFA from the University of Tennessee in 2008 and teaching for five years, she left academia to devote herself to her own practice.
It’s easy to see why. Flux took her and an assistant two weeks to complete, all without benefit of sketches. Instead, she assesses and responds to the space at hand, much like the conceptual artists Sol LeWitt and Mel Bochner who created their famous drawings by letting the
environmental and architectural contours of a space determine the character and dimensions of the finished works. Wagner’s obvious interest in and reference to micro and macro organic structures vividly recalls coral, fungi and bacteria. She develops these associations by creating structures with reef-like holes, which allow viewers to see through and beyond the structure — and to walk under and through portions of it to gain additional perspectives.
The strips of tablecloth stuffed into the chicken wire framework for Flux include large areas of white, black and blue, with highlighted smaller areas of red, orange, yellow and green, outlined mostly in black. This color scheme and composition are both pleasingly and aesthetically balanced with Wagner’s choice of yellow and orange to highlight the vertical part of the sculpture that extends through the main gallery’s skylight into an adjoining theater lobby, bringing to mind exotic landscapes like Bryce Canyon and Arches National Monument.
Other works on view in a separate room include four pieces from her Aphotic series, three-dimensional wall sculptures made of cut paper. Each is mounted on an aluminum grid in a rectangular wooden box fronted by plexiglas. Wagner bends, folds, shapes and layers the paper into intricate structures, full of motion and stasis, like frozen waves or colored light beams. They issue a
psychedelic/Op Art charge, each unique in color and shape, including some areas that are created by rolling and joining the paper into flower- or coral-like clusters.
In these, Wagner’s formal color designs and compositional acuity recall Frank Stella’s sculptures and prints, particularly those inspired by Melville’s Moby-Dick, as well as his color-complex series Imaginary Places. This comparison justly places Wagner in rarefied but deserved company.
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FLUX: A Site-Specific Installation by Crystal Wagner @ Bedford Gallery, Lesher Center for the Arts, through August 28, 2016.
About the author:
Critic and poet Frank Cebulski was a contributing editor to Artweek for more than 30 years and a reviewer for examiner.com.