Wood is Everything
Band of Vices, Los Angeles
Through July 2, 2022
Written by Lorraine Heitzman
Rebecca Niederlander’s beautiful and meticulously assembled wood sculptures at Band of Vices reveal an artist with impressive craftsmanship, but one whose skills are always in service to her rich emotional content. The impact of her current show, The Devil’s Workshop, is created by this duality, and through her embrace of all sorts of contradictions, a concept that is foundational to Niederlander’s belief in inclusivity. It therefore follows that she alternates between styles and construction methods. She uses both geometric and organic forms, and deftly exploits different properties of wood, such as density, strength and pliability. Her best works have sinuous lines that suggest three dimensional gestural drawings, or they imply expanding and contracting movements through interlocking components. She gets her wood scraps from a community of local woodworkers and uses the materials as they are, some with live edges alongside remnants of finished lumber. This democratic and random process of sourcing her materials lends variety to the work, but ultimately the result is her own signature realm.
Niederlander seems to instinctively construct her sculptures by masterfully weaving many elements together into a single integrated form, like a spider making its web. And like a web, they can be weightless, sturdy, fanciful, and dynamic. Some are suspended from the ceiling, others sit on the floor, or are mounted onto the walls. All of them are abstract, and according to the artist, they often reference personal and historical narratives as well as spiritual and philosophical concepts. A few QR codes posted beside some of the artworks connect to audio links of the artist explaining the genesis of the work. The artist offers insights into her process in a very engaging way, and this method is both illuminating and highly preferable to wall text.
Nothing is Owed, Nothing is Asked is a compelling hanging sculpture that Niederlander explains is an attempt to make something whole and grand from a series of zeros, an apt metaphor for the creative process. Optimism is embedded in the lines and form of the curvaceous sculpture that strongly resembles a cocoon, awaiting metamorphosis. Lightweight and pale, it nevertheless anchors the space in such a way that all the surrounding sculptures become part of its galaxy. A Hero’s Journey and Ray have similar wood strips in repeated curves, and not coincidentally, all three achieve a fluidity that is elegant and lyrical.
At the other end of the spectrum, The Woods are Full of Shining Eyes, is imposing, heavy and more complex than any of her bent wood pieces. It rises from the ground on two main “legs”, top-heavy from an abundance of stacked wood and a maze of architectural elements. Dizzying and chaotic, the viewer experiences the confusion first-hand. The title is a quote from the poem, Magic Word that Niederlander first heard set to music on a Joan Baez album. Loosely interpreted, the poem is about being afraid and finding a path to safety.
Two other artists come to mind when looking at The Devil’s Workshop: Martin Puryear and Noah Purifoy; the first for his precision and craftsmanship that elevate and refine his exquisite wood sculptures, and the latter for an appreciation and willingness to transform the found object, combining different elements into a personal vision. Perhaps Niederlander’s approach falls between these two giants. She has the discernment and drive to create beautiful objects, and at the same time finds inspiration from random elements. Her large-scale sculptures show off these strengths best; she seems to find a freedom off the wall that isn’t as apparent in her smaller works. In the past she has worked even larger, in site-specific works, public art and in her social practice. It is clear she values the flexibility and size of projects that incorporate her interests in spirituality and community. In the end, her inclination to embrace contradictions and multiple ideas at once is her best skill of all.