Perhaps nothing can represent violence and chaos better than banged-up sheets of metal—especially when they have been obviously repurposed from something that was once carefully designed, machined and functional. It can be the perfect vehicle for a defiant, heroic, exuberant self-expression, as it was for mid-century Abstract Expressionist sculptors like John Chamberlain.
Kennedy Yanko’s sculptures are much quieter and more decorative than Chamberlain’s. They’re still flamboyant, though more like florals than car wrecks. This series of twelve pieces, as suggested by its title, “Hannah”—one of the artist’s given names—might suggest her own personal identity. Possibly she too can be soft and yielding as well as tough, sharp and hard. That contrast is expressed in this work by the juxtaposition of scratched and crunched metal with the smooth, flowing surface of paint that’s been poured and then dried until it’s a vinyl-like fabric called a “paint skin.”
The range of effects presents the ordinary stuff of daily life—anything from romance to food to body functions. In “Sleuth,” young, sleek orange paint skin appears to rest in the embrace of gnarly black steel. In “Connect with Confidence,” the convolutions of peach-colored skin appear to ooze from the crotch of a smashed yellow steel container. The long, twisting yellow skin in “Steeled” might be a tongue dangling from the open steel jaws of a giant frog. “Black Garnet” resembles a squashed bug, with hard chitinous steel on the outside and soft, mushy paint skin oozing from within. The yellow skin in “Golden” evokes mustard erupting from a ketchup-drenched hot dog bun. The white barrel in “Split Form” appears to be tilting over so that it can shit out the smooth green effluvia of paint skin flowing beneath it. Several pieces suggest the protruding inner folds of a vulva.
It’s all lighthearted and fun, although the spatial design feels far from casual. Yanko has sharply attended to her arrangement of solids, edges and holes. The gallery space has been modified with diagonals and platforms to accommodate the architectural presence of sculptures that stand on the floor or hang from a wall.
The most remarkable piece, “Agate,” hangs from the ceiling and gets its own room. The horizontal top is made with the steel mesh and twisted aluminum slats of a mangled fence. The vertical column beneath is a large, hanging paint skin of an identical green color. It feels like a single, mighty brushstroke angled into three dimensions. It’s calming, at least for me. It’s also one of the few pieces in the show that feels more like a serious gesture than a knee-slapping joke.
In a statement on her website, the artist refers to “the dadaist influence” of the found objects that she uses. But I don’t think this art-school dropout has imbibed all that much contemporary art theory. Her work is much closer to the Taoist influence of Chinese philosopher stones. She enhances the beauty of things rather than confronting us with their banality. She writes that her practice is “built upon paradox,” and addresses “human perception and societal expectations.” But the opposition evident to me is that timeless interaction between the masculine and feminine principles which is the foundation of Taoist thinking.
Kennedy Yanko is a powerful and free spirit at only thirty-one years old. I wonder what the hell she’ll be making fifty years from now. (Chris Miller)
Kennedy Yanko: HANNAH, Kavi Gupta, 219 North Elizabeth, through December 14.