Portland art blog + news + exhibition reviews + galleries + contemporary northwest art

recent entries

Giving Thanks Readings
Meet RACC's new leader Madison Cario
November Reviews
Early November Links
Spooky reviews
Countdown to Portlandageddon?
Mid October Links including PNCA/OCAC merger talks
Paul Allen, philanthropist and arts champion dead at 65
Midwest Art Initiative Tour
Haunting October Picks
End of September News
September review cluster

recent comments



Book Review
Calls for Artists
Design Review
Openings & Events
About PORT

regular contributors


Tori Abernathy
Amy Bernstein
Katherine Bovee
Emily Cappa
Patrick Collier
Arcy Douglass
Megan Driscoll
Jesse Hayward
Sarah Henderson
Jeff Jahn
Kelly Kutchko
Drew Lenihan
Victor Maldonado
Christopher Moon
Jascha Owens
Alex Rauch
Gary Wiseman



Guest Contributors
Past Contributors
November 2018
October 2018
September 2018
August 2018
July 2018
June 2018
May 2018
April 2018
March 2018
February 2018
January 2018
December 2017
November 2017
October 2017
September 2017
August 2017
July 2017
June 2017
May 2017
April 2017
March 2017
February 2017
January 2017
December 2016
November 2016
October 2016
September 2016
August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005

contact us


Contact us






powered by


Movable Type 3.16

This site is licensed under a


Creative Commons License

Friday 02.18.11

« IN(ter)DEPENDENCE | Main | 2011 CNAA's whittled down »

An Alphabet Is Not a Book of Poetry: Elspeth Pratt at Reed's Cooley Gallery

Unrelated, Elspeth Pratt, 2007

Elspeth Pratt's sculptures are simple. Mostly elegant quadrilaterals, they sit against the walls and on the floor of Reed's Cooley Gallery wide mouthed and hardy, in spite of their meager lines. They are instantly pleasing formally, drawing the viewer in with tactile conventions that are generous in their physical accessibility. These sculptures present their ideas quietly, allowing ample space for the viewer to exist in the suggestions of the artwork. Yet, there is something that seems deficient in this work. There is something in Pratt's oeuvre that feels as if it has been unfairly stopped short. Nonetheless is an exhibition that leaves the viewer uneasy and wanting, as the sculptures teeter on the edges of strange lines and blurry constructs.

Pratt's sculptures seem to be a bit at war with themselves. They are formal battles within ontological struggles. Replete with the reference of architecture and its absence, these shapes want to stand their own ground. They vie for an expressive subversion which they have not yet quite achieved and seem more like playful, three dimensional sketches for spatial subversion. In essence, they seem like buildings. And yet. . . They are buildings. And why shouldn't they be? Architecture as social signifier is an accurate, apropos, and even fierce language when its poetics employ and incite a discussion surrounding its consequences. It is a fluctuating force that in contemporary times is as changing a mirror of society as the internet and, when maintained, is one of the most honest historical documents in existence. Architecture is a social mirror in spite of itself, an integral beacon of priorities dated and fled. The greatest histories in the world would be lost without it. Pratt's choice of this vehicle to discuss her ideas is intriguing, especially as she places almost all of these pieces on the wall. The white of the wall (with the exception of Collateral Event, which is round, and Moveable Feast, which sits on the floor) acts as a void within which the eye naturally completes a sense of perspective: a contemporary cubist experience. Yet it is within the bodies of these buildings where their problems lie.

Collateral Event, Pratt.jpg
Collateral Event, Elspeth Pratt, 2007

While not every quadrilateral in the visual world is a building, Pratt’s sculptures in this exhibition exist as mostly architectural reference without staking any sort of symbolic claim. While the materials Pratt employs here are intentionally humble, as is the construction, she reaches for a language of metaphysics. This is possible yet difficult when the viewer is mired in the idea of building. This is not indicative of Pratt's entire yet is a quantifier for this exhibition. In her lecture, Pratt mentioned the idea of spatial reference as a symbol one can recognize yet cannot name. This idea is fantastic, and the space where these shapes exists is strange and science fiction like. Eva Hesse, Richard Tuttle, Elsworth Kelly, Mary Heilman, Jonathan Lasker, and Ivin Ballen are artists that do this.

Garden of Allah #2, 1994, Mary Heilmann

Hang Up, 1966, Eva Hesse

Theirs is language discovered, explored, and pushed. However, Pratt's work is still too architectural to be without name, and almost too architectural to be imbued with symbol. They seem reminiscent of a zeitgeist: iconic and from an era of post minimalism and fearful non commitment. The language of this work is incredibly formal, yet there is something dishonest here as the work fumbles beneath a misnomer. These sculptures seem more like an architect's haphazard models for somewhat subversive architecture than an artist's nod to architecture in the midst of reifying her ideas. I cannot be sure why the artist chooses to do this for this exhibition. To claim its own uncertain, formal experimentation would seem to be a much more interesting experience for this work, yet perhaps the contemporary age of rhetoric does not always allow artists to do this. . .The sculptures of Nonetheless seem to falter beneath some sort of embraced limit, perhaps brought on by language. Material alone cannot comprise the entirety of language, and an alphabet is not a book of poetry. Working within a minimal construction renders the voice of a material crisper and louder, and Pratt has neglected this among these pieces in a way that becomes increasingly apparent the longer you sit with them.

Facing Out, Pratt.jpg
Facing Out, Elspeth Pratt, 2008

Pratt's pieces in Nonetheless are eloquent aberrations that achieve more buzz than hum. Their materials, while fraught with subtle and benign suggestion, are not slapped or heralded or disappointed enough to do more than stand. They exist within a construction of ideals that is only nascent, asking their creator for more honest consideration and more time.

Posted by Amy Bernstein on February 18, 2011 at 4:30 | Comments (0)


Post a comment

Thanks for signing in, . Now you can comment. (sign out)

(If you haven't left a comment here before, you may need to be approved by the site owner before your comment will appear. Until then, it won't appear on the entry. Thanks for waiting.)

Remember me?

s p o n s o r s
Site Design: Jennifer Armbrust   •   Site Development: Philippe Blanc & Katherine Bovee