Artforum / March 2009

Pam Lins
RACHEL UFFNER GALLERY

The awkwardness involved in physically negotiating Pam Lins’s exhibition “Owl” was surely no accident, but whether knowing this made the viewing experience more fulfilling is debatable. By arranging her sculptures in a tight but multidirectional cluster, Lins made a case for active engagement but repaid the effort with an assortment of rather clumsily worked-out ideas. Shoehorning several concerns—each of them independently complex—into one basic formal unit (repeated, with variations, in close quarters), the Brooklyn-based artist communicated wide-ranging interests but did not match them with a coherent cumulative vision.

The exhibition consisted of eleven raw, variously sized, wooden pedestals, each painted on one side with vivid stripes. Atop each column is a small acrylic painting on panel, held upright by wooden supports. These simple, square compositions are not unappealing but divorced of their sculptural supports would probably seem a little lazy. The show offers not just one owl, as indicated by its title, but many of them, each carved in plaster that had been poured into an alcove cut into one edge of a pedestal. Naturally, Lins has her reasons for including all these components, but it remains difficult to feel much for the end results. And once their basis is discovered, the works begin to look rather cutesy, their improvisational elements a bit too much of not enough.

Lins’s owls are reportedly modeled on a carving at the Notre Dame church in Dijon that passersby rub for good luck (“a future-oriented, collectively witnessed ritual” in the grandiose terminology of the press release). Apparently, Lins regards this ornithological gargoyle as an ideal for public sculpture; less clear is how it functions as part of a comparatively ephemeral sculpture. The stripes (brightly colored and just irregular enough that we can be sure they were rendered by hand) are, more straightforwardly, an allusion to Op art and popular design.  But why simply pointing to the existence of such styles should be of particular critical value is somewhat obscure.

Perhaps the paintings have some answers? They offer variety at least. The train takes you where it goes (all works 2008) depicts a rough network of gray and white lines that might be a simplified city plan, while the surface of Pick up the right things is divided by zones of gentle color. Bridges among water, with its array of spreading contours, continues the geographical-topographical theme, and the verbosely titled We live in the third world from the sun. Number three. Nobody tells us what to do expands the scale still further to present what looks like the outline of a whole country. It’s always time to leave and The wind blows your hat off look more thoroughly abstract; both feature dark shapes edging away from the compositions’ centers.

It’s all eminently competent, but what is the end result for which Lins hopes? Clearly, she is interested in critiquing what defines the various genres she alludes to, using familiar signifiers to ensure we are aware of this intention. Just as clearly, she admires the retinal-cerebral buzz generated by effective abstraction. Still further, I am prepared to believe that she is an engaging thinker about the slippery intersection of art and its various sites and publics. But in order for any of these concerns to benefit from the full weight of her intellectual commitment and technical skills, they need—as does the viewer—a little more space in which to move.

Image: View of “Pam Lins,” 2009. From left: Bridges among water, 2008; Run in front of your shadow, 2008