August 16 – October 20, 2013
purchase book with essay by Carol Diehl
Sienna Patti is pleased to present a solo exhibition of recent work from artist Lauren Fensterstock. Fensterstock’s site-specific installation work and wall pieces depict nature by incorporating meticulously cut and curled paper, charcoal, and Plexiglass to create floral and garden scenes. Fensterstock’s work and practice references French and English garden design of the 1500s to 1700s, the 18th century practice of “quilling”—sculpting paper by wrapping around a quill—along with a nod to, and reflection upon, 20th century American earth art and the work of Robert Smithson.
‘Both tempting and threatening, Fensterstock creates objects of desire whose beauty draws us in, only to repel with intimations of dark secrets. This tension culminates in an illusion of depth and motion that leaves viewers with the eerie sensation that these shadowy gardens have a sinister life—one that will cause them to grow and change long after we have left the room.’ Carol Diehl, from Radical Sentimentalism: The World of Lauren Fensterstock
About the Artist
Lauren Fensterstock is an artist, writer, and curator based in Portland, Maine. Lauren’s work is held in private and public collections in the US, Europe, and Asia. Her work was the subject of a major solo exhibition at The John Michael Kohler Art Center in 2013. Other recent exhibitions include Arthouse-The Austin Museum of Art (TX), The Bowdoin College Museum of Art (ME), the San Francisco Museum of Craft and Design (CA), the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art (OR), The DUMBO Art Center (NY), The Dorsky Gallery (NY) and the Oliver Sears Gallery (Ireland). ). Lauren’s work is represented by Sienna Patti Contemporary in Lenox, MA. Outside the studio, Lauren recently served as a visiting faculty member at the Rhode Island School of Design. She previously served as Academic Program Director of the Interdisciplinary MFA in Studio Arts at Maine College of Art and as Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at Maine College of Art. Her curatorial projects and published writings have been featured internationally. Lauren holds degrees from the Parsons School of Design (BFA 1997) and SUNY New Paltz (MFA 2000).
“…far from being ponderous (Anselm Kiefer’s heavily metaphoric use of charcoal to represent the scorched earth and ashes of Germany’s past comes to mind) Fensterstock’s hand is light, even delicate. Gravel-like accumulations of charcoal clump around an astonishingly realistic “pond” of black Plexiglas, into which one can peer and see, like Narcissus, one’s own dark reflection. The dominant material, however, is paper, which Fensterstock has laboriously cut, curled and folded to form myriad flowers and leaves. The resulting tendrils twirl and tumble with abandon, like coils of ribbons on a birthday gift. While familiar plants, such as the many-petaled delphiniums, are keenly observed, they are interspersed with other, more thistle-like flowers, which are invented wholly out of Fensterstock’s imagination. This combination of the real and unreal contributes to a charged atmosphere that is as redolent of Victorian ornamental excess as it is creepily futuristic, like the findings of a space shuttle from an as-yet-undiscovered black planet.
Much of our inability to place Fensterstock’s work in time has to do with the fact that the practices that have influenced her span several centuries: French and English garden design of the 1500 to 1700s, the pleasure and refinement of ladies’ accomplishments in the 18th century (“quilling”—the way she makes her leaves and grasses by wrapping paper around a quill is an old domestic technique), as well as—as Fensterstock puts it—“the high-minded machismo” of American earth art in the later 20th century. In each of these fields, practitioners developed highly stylized forms to express their ideologies and social aspirations, often going to extraordinary lengths to create something that was both part of nature as well as an expression of a formal aesthetic. Topiary serves as one of the simplest examples of this, as can be seen in the elaborate gardens of Versailles and Hampton Court, while the late Robert Smithson’s Spiral Jetty (1970) in Utah’s Great Salt Lake, stands among the most ambitious. The association with Smithson is evident in the way Fensterstock heaps crumbling charcoal around reflective Plexiglas, similar to Smithson’s smaller three-dimensional installations where he combined piles of gravel or chalk with mirror. Yet while she clearly admires him, Fensterstock is also having a bit of art historical fun at his expense. Smithson was, after all, considered a Minimalist, an artist who was attempting to eliminate all emotional overtones and any sense of the “decorative” from his work; now here’s Fensterstock exuberantly combining his motifs with those we would associate with the Victorians, who indulged in over-the-top melodrama and sentimentality, their passion for ornament leaving no decorative stone unturned.
…Commingling intriguingly with Fensterstock’s 18th century interests are references to the modernists—again, Judd with his polished geometric surfaces, as well as Louise Nevelson’s collections of disparate objects painted black and contained within a box. As before, this strange marriage of pure form with elaborate decorative elements suggests a time and place out of our mundane world. Likewise, the viewers become inadvertently involved in the Third Nature pieces as they attempt to discern the flowerbeds under the glass: in doing so, they become suddenly aware of their own reflections.
Both tempting and threatening, Fensterstock creates objects of desire whose beauty draws us in, only to repel with intimations of dark secrets. This tension culminates in an illusion of depth and motion that leaves viewers with the eerie sensation that these shadowy gardens have a sinister life—one that will cause them to grow and change long after we have left the room.
Carol Diehl is a Contributing Editor for Art in America. Her writing has also been published in ARTnews, New York, Art & Auction, Art & Antiques (Contributing Editor 1984-1995), Metropolis, Review, Arts, and the New Art Examiner (founding Managing Editor).