Margery Amdur, While Screening My Calls. It Might Have Been Turned In at the Lost and Found (detail), 1997. Screen mesh and mixed media.

Margery Amdur

Grand Rapids, MI

Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts

Children watching old black and white movies might innocently be led to believe that the world before technicolor was toned in shades of gray. Margery Amdur embellishes a similar sort of innocence in her recent installation at the Urban lnstitute for Contemporary Arts by transporting her viewers into a colorless, almost nostalgic, world.

Margery Amdur’s installation is set inside a small, narrow chamber which at one time served as a bank vault. Constructed almost entirely of sewn wire mesh window screening and aquarium tubing, Amdur has created a silvery, fictitious world within the white box of the gallery space. Objects like roses, tasseled hobby horses, garment bags, hangers, and dress forms are all intricately sewn wire mesh constructions that seem to float in the space, intermixed with several layers of lace-like floral patterns that hang like intricate, crystallized cobwebs. The transparent colorlessness of the objects initially evokes a strange sort of tonal stillness, like being underwater or looking at old photographs in an antique store. The colorless silences collect and then pattern together, almost outside of time.

The objects do not adhere to a strict linear narrative; they seem to be arranged as if they were stored in some sort of attic space. ln this view, they become shells of objects whose function has shifted. The materiality and construction of these objects also convey a hollow seriousness; like ghosts, they remind us of a past we too often gloss over with nostalgia.

By allowing the viewer only three feet of space in front of the wire mesh structure, Amdur invites, then restricts, our entrance, turning the viewer into a voyeur who peers through the lacy layers of floral patterns and transparent objects. This barrier evokes a response similar to viewing theater. 0ur eyes simulate the movements of our bodies through space as we glance in and out of visual forms, details, pattern, and material. It is intriguing how, at this theatrical distance, the transparent objects and patterns fill the physical space of the vault while simultaneously flattening out against one another. As perception shifts, there is an odd, pleasing mix of flat, moiré patterns and spatial depth. The visual flatness of Amdur’s work operates in the tradition that artists like Judy Pfaff and Frank Stella have initiated, where three-dimensional form slips into a two-dimensional reading. lndeed, it is helpful to note that Amdur’s own sculptural work has emerged out of her two-dimensional practice. Yet, within this interesting two – and three-dimensional interchange, there is a slight contextual confusion. On one hand, we are presented with nostalgic, feminine objects which convey an older, didactic feminism-one which polemically advances a feminine ideology via Victorian reconstructions. Then we are given the ever-present (and tired) allusion of hand sewing as connected to a feminine quilting and sewing tradition. This blandly incorporates the overused term “women’s work” which makes trite the complexity of both women and work. And finally, we are offered a baroque presentation-an intuitive (neofeminist?) assertion which is somewhat refreshing, as it promotes playful organization over dogmatic positioning.

Though the intentions behind Amdur’s installation are not very clear, her work remains successful in its subversive beauty, and gets great mileage out of its for mal construction and visual perplexity. Like children, we respond with fascination to her colorless world. The laborious creation of these intricate artifacts from everyday material embodies an expansive integrity that transcends didactic ideology. ln a world where artworks too quickly become a bully-pulpit, the beauty of this disciplined construction is almost enough,
-Conrad Bakker