“Three Strong Shows Make Good Use of ”Installation” Concept”, The Times-Picayune

Three Strong Shows Make Good Use of ”Installation” Concept

by Chris Waddington, THE TIMES-PICAYUNE


Anything goes in today’s art world – and frequently the first thing to go are the distinctions between painting, sculpture, architecture and other traditional disciplines. The resulting cross-breeds are tagged with the vague label of “installation art”, and encompass works whose only shared purpose is the attempt to create a total, theatrical environment from the sanitized spaces of the contemporary gallery.

It’s an impulse with deep roots in Western Art – from the site-specific sculptural programs of Baroque churches to the domestic interiors of Victorian designer William Morris. That impulse takes new forms in a trio of fine, summer exhibitions in the Warehouse Arts District.

Clay gardens

Trained as a ceramicist; Steve Rucker has stretched the bounds of his craft for years, shaping environments that reflect his obsession with the Southern landscape – and the serial nature of industrial ceramic production. His remarkable show at Arthur Roger Gallery, 432 Julia St., include two room-size installations and a suite of related paintings.

“Hot House” fills the lofty front room of the gallery with seven rows of terracotta pots, each dangling above yellow light bars that bevel the floor like high-tech furrows. Angling across the rectangular room, those rows seem to push at the walls, engaging the whole space in a dynamic relationship. Rucker also harnesses gravity to expressive ends, hanging upside-down pots on steel cables that stretch from the ceiling. Those taut verticals lead one”s eye downward to wire plants that branch from the pots and strain toward the lights below them.

But Rucker hasn’t simply created a formal approximation of the forces that exist in nature. He has turned his greenhouse upside down in an effort to reveal the strange fruits of Southern society. Here his plants blossom with guns, hot peppers, pharmaceutical gel-caps, rolled dollar bills, green leaves that curl upward like beggar’s hands, and mirror fragments that evoke the broken glass decoration found on folk shrines from the Congo to Mississippi.

As one circles the piece, fresh views and details appear: plunging aisles and blocked vistas; clay pencils that curves like bananas caught in a dance; repetitions like those in a product-crammed Walmart display; and the constant glint of mirror fragment giving the piece a kinetic aspect.

A second installation fills the gallery tiny back room. Here Rucker also evokes the world of gardening, having planted rows of stand-up, ceramic letters on the floor, then cutting across those rows with banded fluorescent tubes that illuminate his phrases actually have a poetic ring, a child’s garden of rhyme (and schoolyard chants) springing from the floor to evoke an “agriculture horticulture fertilizer stew.”

Rucker calls the piece “Subverse”, but it could be retitled “Subversive” for its sly take on New Orleans gardening. Here the proverbs have us trying “a little bit of rhythm a little bit of rain”, since we”re “gonna grow groceries for the well to do.”

Rucker’s paintings actually seem closer to traditional ceramic concerns than his installations. His glossy, richly worked surfaces evoke the textures of pottery glazes, while his churning landscape imagery seems fitted to his oddly shaped panels in the same manner that a potter adapts surfaces designs to the shape of a vessel.