From the Sticks
Chad Wentzel's White Art Made of God's Eyes and Memories
Chad Wentzel and a Star-Studded Celebration of Infinitude and Perpetual Beauty
Crawl Space Gallery
Through August 19.
Sophistication dukes it out with scruffiness in Chad Wentzel and a Star-Studded Celebration of Infinitude and Perpetual Beauty, as it does every weekend in the nice-walls/dirty-floor environment of Crawl Space Gallery, where Wentzel is one of seven member artists. Which will win? Neither. In Wentzel's work and his home venue, it's the tension sparked by polished and rough edges forced together that prevails.
Billed as a romantic evocation in "craft" of the artist's self-described blue-collar Tacoma roots and attendant "ordinary memories," this show sets an elegant suite of wall-mounted paper works against a scraggly forest of coarsely threaded sculptures made from wood and yarn. The latter are held together by god's eyes, which also appear, albeit two-dimensionally, in the paper series. Wentzel's statement mentions that he first learned how to make a god's eye in his third-grade Cub Scout day camp. (Is the joke on me? Where else people first learn to make god's eyes, I don't want to know.)
On paper, Wentzel's craft is just that: a skillful manipulation of material and process. There Is a Meadow in the Woods Near Our Fort by the Pond at the End of the Cul-de-sac Down the Street from Our House is four intricate cutout views of trees. Each of these is mounted on another sheet of paper that has been intaglio-printed with a ghostly cluster of small, monochromatic god's eyes. The white-on-white-on-white result is a winning combination of specificity and blankness, suggesting how the adult mind's own "eye" might perceive the childhood meadow of the panels' title—not retinally but by conjecture, affectionately "looking" at its object in the past tense.
Meanwhile, the whiteout continues, as woolly god's eyes proliferate across the twigs and branches of a dozen-plus sculptures distributed throughout the gallery. With appropriately childlike resourcefulness, this debased, once-sacred craft of Jalisco's hapless Huichol Indians is put in service as a structural device. Skinny yarn-jointed sticks point every which way, but leading where? If it's not a fully recreated tree fort we're encountering, then perhaps these are its fragments, or at least the remnants of a July afternoon spent tinkering around outside, exercising the right, so readily relinquished by adults, to make something out of nothing with whatever is at hand.
Wentzel refers to his installation as a "dreamscape," its individual components "commemorating" his memories of Tacoma and beyond. Wood, fiber, captured moments: Aren't we venturing dangerously close to "dream catcher" territory? Thanks to a heavy dose of bathos in the form of several gross-out titles, this craft nightmare doesn't come to pass. When I Was in High School I Knew Some Guys Who Smoked Their Own Poop. I Think They Had Eaten Drugs and Thought They Could Get High off the Remaining Drugs in Their Shit. I Don't Know if It Worked. Check.
It's pointless to seek narrative links between Wentzel's formal choices and the "commemoration" of an experience such as In the Hotel After My Sister's Graduation My Mom Found a Dead Mouse in Her Room. She Called the Front Desk and Asked What They Were Going to Do About It. They Said Barbecue It. Unlike the deceptively pared down There Is a Meadow..., which projects a mental image in increasingly uncanny detail the longer it's observed, these sculptures seem intended, when considered closely, to disappear before one's eyes. The titles' details provide no entrée. Together as an installation—buttressed by repetition and volume, making up the "dreamscape"—their liminal and even arbitrary character beguiles. But taken individually, gallery guide in hand, the sculptures leave one cold, as anecdotes from other people's dreams often do.
Despite its seemingly throwaway, impossible-to-deliver promise, Chad Wentzel and a Star-Studded Celebration of Infinitude and Perpetual Beauty is hardly motivated by cynicism, nor does it indulge in kitsch. As in his previous show at Crawl Space, the cut-paper extravaganza Everything I've Ever Wanted All at the Same Time, Wentzel makes a genuine attempt to pin down his euphoria and share it. His vision is ecstatic. He wants to bring it to the gallery. And yet, as his own larger-than-life rhetoric acknowledges up front, he knows that he will fail to. The interest lies in the attempt. That's a very honest way of making art about desire.