Garth Clark already reviewed the Daisy Youngblood show (Daisy Youngblood: Ten Years 2006 – 2015) but it is an important event that deserves more than one viewpoint. We found this review by Thomas Micchelli in Hyperallergic to be extremely thoughtful. It celebrates this major show, which is particularly poignant now that David McKee has announced that his gallery will be closing due to the ugly character of art dealing today. Photographs of select pieces from the exhibition are accompanied here with Micchelli’s thoughts. Please read his full review at Hyperallergic.
Above image: Anubis and the 1st Chakra, 2012; low-fire clay, wood and stone; 32 x 22 x 17. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, purchase, by exchange, through an anonymous gift
On Youngblood’s Anubis and the 1st Chakra:
In his quickie review of this show in last Friday’s New York Times, Holland Cotter notes, “You wait for the work to turn sentimental, but it doesn’t. It’s too strange.” Yes, but what may be making us uncomfortable is not the essential strangeness of the work but our estrangement from the natural order of things, the endless cycle of birth and oblivion, that it represents.
This estrangement is keenly felt in a sculpture like “Anubis and the 1st Chakra” (2012), named for the Egyptian jackal-god of mummification and the afterlife. Composed of a clay jackal’s head, its huge ears standing at attention, atop a gnarled, L-shaped piece of wood, which rests alongside a stone resembling a human leg, the work is a mini-tableau of an interrupted carrion meal.
The invocation of Anubis and the first chakra, which in Buddhism is located at the base of the spine and is vital for survival, generates an unpalatable and, for some, untenable image — death feasting on the life force, a crucifixion without a resurrection. But such a schema, in which our souls are processed through the gut of a wild dog, removes our spiritual life from an imaginary or philosophical plane and drags it back to earth, where we live.
On Youngblood’s Budhi:
(B)ut they (scorch marks) are even more noticeable on “Budhi” (2006), the portrait of Youngblood’s daughter, where they envelope her head, shoulders, chest, right arm, hand and thigh, contrasting starkly with the creamy whiteness of the face and left arm.
Budhi, whose name would seem to be a variant of Buddhi, the consort of Ganesh embodying intelligence, was born in 1986 with Down’s syndrome, making her 19 or 20 years old when the sculpture was made. That she is depicted nude raises troubling questions about consent, like those that are swirling around Sally Mann right now. But the rounded, idealized forms, informed by the complex and deeply personal allusions surrounding the piece and its evident mother-daughter bond, take the portrait to a level where presumptions founder on ambiguity.
Her outstretched arms and hairless, outsized head lend her a doll-like aura, while the blackened swathes impart the sensation that a passage through flames, à la Mozart’s Magic Flute, was a prerequisite to reaching out to us. Her head also leans back, not to emerge — as we might interpret with Bellamy — from a volatile state of transformation, but to engage with her environment in a state of centered quietude.
On Youngblood’s Chandrika:
…“Chandrika” (2014), a reclining figure with red clay legs, an undulating log where its hips and torso should be, and a face, also of red clay, that resembles mummified skin and rests on a large, rounded stone. Creepily extruded pebbles stand in for the nose and teeth; there are no arms, and the comportment of the legs feels simultaneously moribund and post-coital. The face recalls a Mayan terra-cotta head or an Aztec decorated skull.
An evocation of the ancient is felt in a number of works in the exhibition, but it remains an undercurrent; historicism doesn’t become an issue even as the artist resists the formal pull of modernism: techniques such as fragmentation and assemblage are employed, but Youngblood’s natural materials seek a fractious unity within each piece rather than a discontinuity or rupture. These tendencies take the work out of our time and place, landing it in a contemporaneous but foreign setting, not unlike flying from New York to the Costa Rican rainforest, where the primeval clings to your skin with the saturated humidity.
On Youngblood’s Coming to Meet, the Internal Balance of Stillness and Activity:
And then there’s “Coming to Meet, the Internal Balance of Stillness and Activity” (2014), comprised of a clay female torso, with sticks for limbs and polished stones for its head and hips, an amalgam that veers uncomfortably close to the queasy Surrealism of Salvador Dalí.
The best work in this show is more familiar, and more disturbing, than much of what is found in vintage Surrealism. For one, it sidesteps obvious dream states and psychological fissures in favor of a spiritual framework elementally connected to the natural world. If there is a pantheistic or animistic thrust to this work, as the exhibition’s press release suggests (“Stones are used as heads, eyes, noses, torsos; a long concave piece of oak is a body. They are all equal parts of a living whole for Daisy Youngblood.”), it does not intrude on the sculptures’ materialist determinism, that the life cycle begins and ends with the construction and dissolution of clay.
On Youngblood’s Leaping I:
These works make the most of Youngblood’s classical sensibility as well as her ability to endow clay with a pulse. The animals are uncommonly alive, especially the two orangutans catapulting off the wall in “Leaping I” and “Leaping II” (both 2010); they are hardly anthropomorphized, yet, like the other wildlife in the show, they exude a dignity and intelligence — an animal intelligence defined by their oneness with their surroundings.
From Thomas Micchelli’s review, “The Nature of Things: Daisy Youngblood’s Clay, Sticks and Stones” for Hyperallergic.
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