A Good Word! at Jolie Laide

By Roberta Fallon
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 2 | Posted Feb. 23, 2011

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A-OK: James Hyde's sculptures are playful and visually engaging.

“OR” talks with “OK” as “OH” hangs back in the corner. “Capital B,” the tall, gangly guy, is telling jokes while the host, “Big A,” though looped and upside down, makes everyone feel at home.

What is this, a cocktail party?

James Hyde’s show, Word!, at Jolie Laide kind of looks like one, with sculptures of letters and short words—made from wood, spray paint, foam insulation, cinder blocks and other construction materials—forming little clusters on the floor. Short and tall, fat and thin, the sculptures strive to give Philadelphia-born modernist painter Stuart Davis a fresh look in the 21st century.

Visually and materially engaging, the objects hold a strange but true allegience to Davis’ free-form, Cubist-inspired word- and jazz-influenced paintings. Cheerful, playful and colorful, these little letters and words speak on many levels about humans and language, just as Davis’ work does. (And they’re hand-made, which appeals to us in our era of DIY).

But not all of Hyde’s works achieve liftoff.

His collage paintings in the gallery space wear their historical references to Davis a little loudly and seem more about formalist ideas. And because their enigma unfolds quickly, they are less magical than tricky.

The works combine digital prints and paint. Initially, you confuse the two because what looks painted is really huge and realistic-looking digitally printed blow-ups of brush strokes from Davis’ paintings. The flat white areas look like paper, and you assume they are the prints. The humongous paint strokes—so big and luscious they look like waves and drips of pudding—are very attractive, but once you’ve figured out that they are digital photos of paint, they lose their mystery and become nothing more than great big pictures. The white paint that Hyde sprays on in hard-edged geometric lines and circles ends up looking like White-Out hiding a mistake.

Unlike the playful sculptures, the collage paintings seem rooted in formalist abstract concerns about color, line, shape and rhythm. And, also true to their art historical roots in Davis, words serve as the title of the pieces—“IN,” “TO,” “AT,” “IF,” “OF,” “AS,” “OR,” “ON”—and are spelled out in whole or part by the white painted areas.

Hyde, who was born in Philadelphia but lives in New York, is a sculptural painter who frequently references art history and whose works showcase construction materials (according to the gallery, he worked in the construction trades and clearly loves these materials). He has previously created big pillow pieces painted like Monet’s water lilies and Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. He’s also made functional furniture. In his 2002 solo exhibition at the Rosenwald-Wolf Gallery, Hyde showed colorful furniture made of plexiglas that looked like functional color-field chunks. A recent show at The Boiler in Brooklyn included functional furniture/painting hybrids like a “Davis” sofa and some white “Chunk” chairs for people to sit on while visiting the show. The sofa was covered with the blown-up brush strokes and it looked like a new kind of 3-D painting.

While they might look like toss-offs, Hyde’s sculptures are the magic of the exhibit—their combination of idea and materials comes together perfectly.

Through March 26. Artist’s talk, with PMA Curator of Modern Art Michael Taylor, Fri., March 18, 7pm. Closing event, with Jeremy Sigler and Shayna Dunkelman, Sat., March 27, 7pm. Jolie Laide, 224 N. Juniper St. jolielaide.com

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1. Travis Heck said... on Feb 24, 2011 at 10:43AM

“The closing event with Jeremy Sigler and Shayna Dunkelman is on Saturday, March 26th, not March 27th.”

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2. roberta said... on Feb 24, 2011 at 10:56AM

“thanks for the correction, Travis.”

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