Hayden Gallery, Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Artists rarely are offered the opportunity to express what is pressing and pertinent in a form other than their own work. With this in mind, we asked Jackie Winsor to exhibit five sculptures completed since her 1979 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, together with five works by a younger artist of his own choosing.
If judged by appearances alone, Winsor’s choice of Barry Ledoux is unexpected. One might imagine the artist would be more interested in sculpture which displays similar stylistic tendencies to her own. But as Winsor states in the interview published in this catalogue, “the connection is not a visual one. It has to do with my sense of where Barry’s work comes from. The seeds seem more familiar than the tree that bloomed. He comes out as a peach tree and I come out as a pear; however, the source feels the same to me.”
Winsor’s sculptures rely simultaneously on intuition and calculation, involving research into the capabilities and limitations of materials. The artist may work on one sculpture for as long as two years. She starts with an initial dream-like image and then moves on to consider each detail and its impact on the whole before beginning the gritty process of building and rebuilding the physical realization of the imagined image. Adjustments of one sixteenth of an inch are made routinely. Born in New Foundland, Winsor remembers the stubbornness required to weather the winter’s duration and acknowledges that her materials and methods require a similar commitment.
It took Winsor six months of reflection and study before she began to build Burnt Piece which involved mixing fire and cement, a process that many told her was dangerous. But the initial image of a burning house was not easily forgotten. Eventually, Winsor conceived a wooden frame, strengthened by five layers of mesh, to support the 1400 pounds of concrete. A pre-fired clay, capable of withstanding extreme heat replaced the more volatile sand usually added to cement. The effort was almost alchemical: to make the quantitative with that which could not be measured, to allow the destructive processes of fire an expressive role in the creation of a sculpture.
The rationality and sparseness of the cube was tempered by the deft, even intimate handling of material and surface. Similarly, the apertures in the cube - the dimensions and weightiness of which related to the human body - invite the viewer to come closer, to peer inside. By intimately engaging one’s senses of touch and smell, Winsor’s work makes seeing a particularly physical act.
Born in Louisiana, Barry Ledoux combines both the robust and the macabre ingredients of Mardi Gras in his sculpture.
While quicker-paced than Winsor’s. Ledoux’s methods also include destruction as part of the creative act. Lead, one of many materials used by Ledoux, was chosen initially for its pliancy, surface and color; its toxicity and heaviness, however, are suggestive of the drama contained within and among the sculptural forms drawn from the artist’s own body and from those of his models. His lead and paper suits as well as the more recent sculptures composed primarily of figurative fragments suspended on a cross-like armature have been added to, subtracted from stenciled or punctured.
One of the primary sources of Ledoux’s work is language, and his forms generally retain some vestige of this initial impulse. The structure of many of the sculptures resembles a scrambled sentence. Shards of words and phrases appear on the torso, arm and leg fragments, conjuring the fleeting events of the mind. Like the forms themselves, the narrative is fractured rather than complete; the emotional content is alternatingly tender and threatening, frozen and anxious.
For many of his earlier years, Ledoux played both cello and piano. His lack of interest in composing for either instrument eventually led to his involvement with sculpture as a way to structure his ideas. Ledoux finds an analogy between his work and singing, a means of articulating language within a highly structured form. A sense of sound is imminent in many of his materials. In The Art of Singing (for Ockeghem) Montessori bells, used in classrooms of Leodux’s youth in Louisiana, have been incorporated and signify the vitality of memory. The viewer must choose to play bells; unstruck they simply evoke the memory of sound.
Ledoux’s process of decision-making is empirical rather than deliberate, intuitive rather than logical, allowing for serendipitous occurrences. The introduction of locusts into No.1 with Spleen was inspired by a succession of dragonflies that flew into his New York studio. Their fluorescent color and fragile but tough carapace are twins of his own lead and paper suits, The flower included in The Art of Singing (for Ockeghem) is a living form, its feminine softness, fragrance and beauty as suggestive as the golden cast of male buttocks.
Ledoux does not eschew ambiguity in his sculptures, but neither does he expect them to be illegible or aloof. Keys are included in his titles as well as his materials. A cycle of readings, ranging from the verbal to the visual, is possible.