More than forty sculptures and drawings constitute an exhibition exploring the premise that we “construct” clothing by creating shapes with volume out of flat materials. Diane Simpson literally constructs slightly larger than life-size models of clothing from lightweight and prosaic materials like composition board, copper tubing, translucent plastic sheeting and every variety of industrial mesh and vintage linoleum. She works with the deliberation and exacting craftsmanship of a master tailor to produce clean, predominately abstract and linear sculptures that take their inspiration from the sleeves of seventeenth-century gowns, American early twentieth-century aprons (with an art deco rhythm), Amish bonnets and Samurai robes, among other articles of clothing. Simpson’s architecture of gowns and aprons reveals the complex and fluid—here, unyielding—structure of clothing, in certain pieces, especially the gowns, but her analysis uncovers more than clever structural engineering. These stripped-down models of women’s clothing can appear cage-like and restrictive.
Simpson’s thirty-year oeuvre turns on a dynamic opposition between constraint and inventiveness. The rigidity and lightness of her materials, the sense that they evoke buildings and contain and possibly restrict the body, the lack of color—they range from cardboard tan to white, punctuated here and there by red twine or threads and copper tubing—and the fact that they are almost all articles or parts of women’s clothing, anchors the artist’s extended inquiry into the complex architectonics and social connotations of garments. Anyone who learned to sew when clothing patterns were made of tan tissue paper, the color of cardboard, and coaxed the flat shapes into volumes, will appreciate the historical aspects of the work and its movement from the private and domestic to the public sphere. Some of the drawings contain notations regarding measurements, essential to sewing, carpentry and engineering. However, there is nothing didactic or reductive about the work. Simpson’s construction of stark but enigmatic masses from flat drab lightweight semi-industrial materials is consistently inventive. She has an eye for the shapes of things and the potential—like the curving and layering of planes to create three dimensional spaces—of materials. (Janina Ciezadlo)
Through July 3 at the Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington.