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Gelah Penn

International Drawing Center

Courtesy of the Artist and Kentler International Drawing Space.

Gelah Penn is exhibiting an installation entitled “Detour” at Kentler International Drawing Space in Brooklyn. She uses various wire meshes and objects in a web-like creation that climbs the gallery’s walls sporting small hives constructed by winding wire tightly around itself providing focal points in the entanglement. This web and hive construction unavoidably evokes the work of Sarah Sze.

Though Jessica Stockholder and Judy Pfaff are the artists who defined installation art for the postmodern era, Sara Sze is its most striking exponent in the succeeding generation. Her contribution is two fold. First of all, she evolved increasingly complex means of integrating an installation with its environment, including a dynamic use of the architecture and décor of her sites. Secondly, she learned to center the activity of her installations on sculptural nodes. She evolved these spots into heights of animated delicacy that bring to mind a bee hive. In one installation at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts, she actually incorporated working fans that sent a sustained vibration through the installation’s entire body. It bridged two floors of the museum.

Sara Sze’s work is a formidable standard of comparison for any artist. Penn fairs well in terms of her use of space. “Detour” moves freely around the room without slipping into chaos. It stays mainly on the wall, making scant use of floor and ceiling. This does no injury but contributes to a lightness that is one of the work’s assets. Penn’s hives, however, might benefit from further consideration. These forms are wound primarily from the same materials as the rest of the installation. Here, Penn’s restraint seems unnecessary and one wonders what surprises these little pockets might otherwise yield if the artist took a cue from Sze and allowed herself a broader use of materials.

Penn’s decision to include her drawings in the same, small space as her installation also bears scrutiny. Though these handsome drawings are well worthy of the space allotted them, they suffer from their proximity to “Detour.” The drawings create framed, illusionary space. They insist that the viewer contemplate what is present within their four, rectilinear boundaries and ignore what is outside of them. Installation, on the other hand, incorporates literal space. Like sculpture, it is three dimensional, but unlike sculpture, installation lacks clearly defined boundaries and invites the viewer to consider space generally – including his or her own – as part of the piece. These two sets of spatial parameters are not necessarily complementary; Penn might have considered making use of the International Drawing Space’s large second room to accommodate her drawings or perhaps giving them an exhibition of their own.


Ben La Rocco


The Brooklyn Rail

MAR 2006

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