Reviews & previews of current exhibitions in New York March 1, 1997

Sara Garden Armstrong DIEU DONNE PAPERMILL
through March 29

One of the results of the development of the studio crafts movement has been an expansion of the vocabulary of materials open to artists.

Tiffany might have made art in glass, but his lamps, vases, and stained glass windows are usually called decorative. However, when Lynda Benglis tied the material in knots, no one questioned that it was fine. Papermaking occupies a different place as an art material. No one disputes it as essential to the making of drawings, but it plays a subordinate role. As a sculptural material, it's been considered unsuitable. But contemporary papermakers have found it can stand up in three dimensions and as relief. Sara Garden Armstrong is one of these. Appropriately, her small exhibition at Dieu Donne Papermill covers all aspects of her work: sculpture, drawing, and books.

Armstrong has found paper to be a material particularly well suited to her aesthetic needs: it can be molded, have a texture, be strong despite its apparent vulnerability. It suits her work that addresses what might appear to be contradictory concerns - man and the man-made, the natural and the constructed, the familiar and the alien. Armstrong's sculpture can be as complicated physically as it is conceptually. For many years now she has incorporated movement and sound through the use of air blowers, making her sculpture a temporal as well as a visual experience. Programmed lighting has added to this. To my eye and ear, it is Armstrong's environments where her work is most successful; there it can (and should) overwhelm the viewer. In the Dieu Donne exhibition, she has opted for individual works where the impact is lessened, although her conceptual concerns are still effectively communicated. Her constructions are both mechanical and organic, the rhythmic pulsing seeming like breathing or blood pumping more than a machine functioning. Bags made of paper that appear to be delicate skin or membrane are contained by - or is it protected by? - clear plastic. The reference is always dual. Armstrong also uses her handmade paper for drawing, but not in the expected and conventional sense. It\stead of being a support for a mark, the creases of the crumpled Abaca paper become the drawing.

The artist's book is a medium, which also interests Armstrong, and she always combines the tactile with the visual. INTERIORS is an edition of 25 variable copies of black photocopies paired with paper pulp stained blood-red with rust and pigment in four-by-twelve inch sleeves of thick plastic. The pages flop and seem both natural and synthetic with the images recalling flesh, membrane, veins, roots, with the tactile sensation clearly man-made. Everything about Armstrong's work evokes two readings and yet paradoxical seems an inappropriate adjective. Perhaps it is because it all seems to be natural in our industrial age.

- Karen Chambers
Page 26

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