Art Pick of the Week
Seriously fun sculpture
Playfully thoughtful works by William T. Wiley
By Victoria Dalkey -- Bee Art Correspondent
(Published 6:27 a.m. PST Monday, November 24, 2002)
Looking at William T. Wiley's sculptures at b. sakata garo, the old saying that "one man's junk is another man's treasure" never seemed truer.
"Thoughtful Angel" by William T. Wiley
b. sakata garo
With tongue planted firmly in cheek, Wiley skewers high art in a series of appealingly wacky works made of stuff that most of us would throw on the scrap heap. We're talking utter junk here -- empty Kleenex boxes, wads of tape, coat hangers, melted vinyl records, and plastic water bottles -- as well as funky found objects -- a stuffed rodent, a powder horn, a beat-up hammer head and an old cowboy hat.
Wiley, one of Northern California's most prominent artists, is in rare form on this outing. Like Picasso, to whom he pays wry homage in a piece that dangles from the ceiling, covered with Wiley's signature dumb-smart, stream-of-consciousness observations, he turns his hand to whatever is around and makes puckish art of it.
The show, unfortunately, is desperately overcrowded and the gallery's rough, red brick walls are a less-than-ideal backdrop for these mostly small, mostly busy works. But if you give each piece some time, you'll be charmed by Wiley's humorous, ad hoc approach to art making. The works in the show are refreshing not only in the simplicity of their means and materials but in their prices, which make them extremely affordable.
The show opens with a wonderful piece titled "Paxed Wanel," a wooden panel covered with drawings and words suspended over a pair of framed drawings of flat irons, one with spikes protruding from its underside. Like many of the works in the show, it's full of word play ("can time key pup?") and references to other artists, in this case, Dadaist Man Ray. Inscribed with a caveat -- "Warning: this work may contain joking hazard" -- it sets the tone for the show.
A number of works make playful references to giants of modern art, including Albert Giacometti and Piet Mondrian. "Art Cart for Giacometti" is a terrifically funny and apt take off on the Italian sculptor's image of a slender figure poised on a chariot.
Made of bent wire and black and white string, it's an uncanny spoof that transcends its cartoonish roots to become a real homage. Not quite as effective, but nevertheless charming in its demystification of modern art, is "Effluvial Plane of Mondrian," a dumb airplane tied to a rock with strips of tape in Mondrian's pure primary colors.
I recently wrote that I was tired of art that you have to read, and that's still true, but Wiley's jottings are so integral to his work that you can't ignore them. In many cases, they are the subject, as in a cutout of a man's head with a sinisterly lolling red tongue covered with thoughts about the coming war. "So," it begins, "earless, eyeless, whyless, they proceed as if they had a right to . . ." and terminates with "How about a war on ignorance?"
Why, you may ask, doesn't Wiley just write these thoughts down and send a letter to the editor of his local newspaper? Why make them into an art piece? Perhaps the answer is that by doing so, people will really look at them as what they are -- part thought, part poetry -- words that raise questions rather than answer them.
While many of Wiley's observations address war, violence and ecology, others fall into the realm of personal humor. A paper angel in the form of an hourglass hangs from the rafters. Inscribed with satirical drawings and writings relating to prominent collector Rene di Rosa, it pokes fun at both the media and the Northern California art world. "Device for Fooling Bruce" is an inscrutable object wrapped in duct tape and inscribed with messages for conceptual artist Bruce Nauman, who was a student of Wiley's at the University of California, Davis. It's suitably strange, though not as purely perplexing as the Slant Step, a mysterious object that Wiley found in a junk store and later gave to Nauman, which now holds a legendary place in the history of Funk art.
At times, Wiley's stream of consciousness is more of a trickle, as in a piece of burlap hung on the wall and marked "The Shroud of Touring," but his ruminations can be fascinating. "Thoughtful Angel," a head with a big nose rising up from a pair of wings, ranges into fascinating territory. Inscribed with suggestive facts and witticisms about dragonflies -- "God's little darning needles keep the world in stitches" -- and the Sahara Desert, it examines where thoughts come from and go, the angel's head becoming a metaphor for the artist's restless mind.
So, if you're of a certain age, take along your reading glasses and go see this remarkable glimpse into the mind of one of Northern California's premiere artists. You won't be sorry.
William Wiley: Sculpture
WHEN: Noon to 6 p.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Nov. 30
WHERE: b. sakata garo, 923 20th St.
INFORMATION: (916) 447-4276