by Shaelyn Hanes
Woody De Othello’s current exhibition, Looking In, breathes fresh potential into the mundane aspects of life. It features the artist’s signature, anthropomorphic ceramic sculptures alongside paintings on canvas and paper. As in previous exhibitions, such as Breathing Room (2019) at the San José Museum of Art and Living Room (2018) at Jessica Silverman, Looking In mirrors and distorts how we perceive domestic space. Where previous works often appeared slumped over, exhausted, and gasping for air, these upward-turned, color-drenched forms forge a space for cacophonous optimism.
Lights, a frequent motif, appear throughout the gallery in various guises: as sculptures of light switches, lighting fixtures and as elements in still-life paintings. In On and On and On and On — a sculpture of a light switch mounted in narrow hallway painted marigold yellow — De Othello envisions the familiar fixture as a multitude of switches emerging from various angles and surfaces. Some appear to be on; others appear off or in in-between states. By recasting this otherwise binary device, De Othello suggests that we can be many things at once.
De Othello also uses light fixtures to challenge the distinction between sculptural and functional objects. Prying Through, a free-standing sculpture, consists of a bright orange desk lamp mounted on a mahogany stool. The light, flipped upward, reveals a beaming, silver-tipped bulb, made operational by an electrical cord that emerges from beneath a red comb. Stylistically, the piece evokes Bay Area Funk art of the 1960s and 1970s; but in spirit it recalls Jasper Johns’ Flag (1955), a painting of an object that also functions as the object it represents. Hanging light fixtures such as Keeping Track and planters such as Big Cup advance this idea. In Looking Up, a turquoise glazed ceramic table supports a sculpture of a hand mirror, coated in a reflective glaze and positioned toward the viewer. Gaze into it from just the right angle and you can glimpse a distorted reflection of yourself — your appearance reimagined by the artist.
Fountain, a tangle of orange pipes and faucets rendered in bronze, is the only work in the show that is not domestically scaled. Standing almost 10 feet tall, it throws the room off-kilter in a way that works to the exhibition’s advantage. Like Marcel Duchamp’s infamous readymade, De Othello’s Fountain reminds us that Duchamp’s 1917 work didn’t just challenge assumptions about the role of the artist’s hand; it also addressed issues of labor and leisure. De Othello’s version, which monumentalizes unseen infrastructure, does much the same thing: it demands that we acknowledge the labor that supports domestic and public spaces.
Upstairs, De Othello organized a group show (Closer Together) of his friends and collaborators: Asif Hoque, Faith Icecold, Evan O’Neal Kirkman, Mareiwa Miller, Cinque Mubarak, Tracy Ren, Malaya Tuyay and Xia Zhang. While aesthetically divergent from De Othello’s work downstairs, both shows suggest that we can reinvent every day spaces to create more expansive ways of being. De Othello enacts these ideals by making room for his artistic community. In doing so, he proposes that we follow his lead — by examining quotidian structures and systems with fresh eyes.
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Woody De Othello: “Looking In” @ Jessica Silverman Gallery through November 13, 2021.
About the author:
Shaelyn Hanes is a San Francisco-based curator, writer, and arts professional. Shaelyn earned an MA in curatorial practice at California College of the Arts in 2021 and a BA in interdisciplinary field studies from the University of California, Berkeley in 2010.