“Soft Art” used to be a thing. Back in the 1960s and ‘70s, there were exhibitions of that title, and fiber sculpture – by figures like Eva Hesse, Lenore Tawney, Sheila Hicks, and Magdalena Abakanowicz – was in vogue. These artists’ pliant forms offered a welcome respite from hard-edge painting and minimalism. They also seemed to introduce a particularly female (if not yet explicitly feminist) sensibility.
Fast forward fifty years or so, and you find Courtney Puckett waiting for you, fabric and scrap wood and wire and string and graph paper in hand. She has embraced softness as a dominant aesthetic, conceiving it not just as a gendered quality, but also a way of thinking. Like a mathematician working out probabilities based on incomplete information (a sub-discipline called “soft logic,” by the way), she builds out her forms in a gradual and exploratory way.
Materials are gathered from the street, which is also an implied field of action. A recent sculpture, The Speaker, was inspired by the Women’s March of 2017. It is an upright totem, impromptu in its structure and pink at the business end, which seems caught in the act of shouting to the rooftops.
Puckett’s drawings, some of which are gathered in this slender volume, share the same associative yet committed quality. Some relate to sculptures, more or less precisely. Others are fragments from a personal archive, calendrical and other systems that break down into pleasurable incident as they sprawl across the page.
Art history has a way of leaving its best ideas lying at the side of the road. It’s always satisfying to see them picked up and put back in use.
-Glenn Adamson, Writer and Curator, 2018
Courtney Puckett’s sculptures made of conglomerations of skinny lines crisscrossing, like spider-webs building up a scaffold, show the thought process and structural necessities the artist must navigate, much like a buildings armature at a construction site. Like drawings in space these sculptures have a frontal view, where all form disappears into material on side view.
-Jesse Greenberg, Artist and Curator, from "World Holes", White Columns online, 2018 link
In the sculptural works of Courtney Puckett, cast-off parts of familiar mass-produced objects without authorship—a clothing drying rack, a fan cover, or a roll of gift box ribbon—emerge from anonymity through the act of binding, wrapping and combining, sublating historically dismissed entities and practices to give voice to materiality. Installed on varying sized pedestals, these new configurations enter into conversation with each other and the viewer, luring and attracting, disguising and disrupting, engaging in a play of play of signifiers that reveals a community of things, rescued from the oblivion of memory, whose voices become audible through figure and gesture.
-Rachel Frank, Artist and curator of “Sound and Vision”, Field Projects, New York, NY, 2018 link
Courtney Puckett’s work occupies a space among countless artists in its use of craft materials like yarn, scarp fabric and tinsel. Tapestry and weaving have long been tools of storytelling, especially for artists (often women) to whom more traditional art forms have been inaccessible. Puckett’s piece takes this a step further, her classical approach to the figure lending fresh significance to epics like Homer’s Odyssey, in which Penelope uses weaving to manipulate her patriarchal destiny. The wrapping and re-wrapping of the foundation of these figures is obsessive and yet tender, with an attention to detail and care akin to the binding of a wound.
-Kristen Frederickson, Curator, from “Text/ure”, Shirley Fiterman Art Center, 2017
Puckett’s sculptures take on human qualities. She uses yarn and other fabrics to obsessively wrap scrap objects. Like the artist Judith Scott, Puckett uses inexpensive and scrap material—scraps of fabric, ribbon, and craft yarn that she wraps around commonplace objects, such as wire planters or a dirty-clothes hamper. The easily recognizable materials used to wrap the objects add to the mystery of what the object underneath could possibly be. The sculptures become works of complete abstraction and take on new shapes. The household objects are no longer identifiable in the end.
The uncanny similarities between the work of Scott and Puckett tempt me to ask why each artist chose their distinctive process of wrapping. Curator Catherine Morris asked a similar question in the catalog to the exhibition Judith Scott—Bound and Unbound, which she co-curated with Matthew Higgs at the Brooklyn Museum in 2014. She writes: “Why all this hand-wringing in order to implement these fairly anodyne display structures? And why describe what may be a rather over determined process of analysis to get there?” Though her questions are asked in regard to Scott, an artist whose biography often overshadows the formal properties of her art, I believe that her answer applies to all of the artists included in Form of Touch.
-Becky Nahom, Curator, from “Form of Touch”,SVA MA Curatorial Practice exhibition at Pfizer Building, 2017 link
Governer's Island Artist-in-Residence