Minimalism and mementos

Jamey Morrill's sculptures and 'souvenirs' at Craftland
By GREG COOK  |  June 2, 2010

After 5 Traverse gallery closed in February, crackerjack curator Maya Allison, who was co-director there, lined up a handful of small independent projects and seemed like she might be on her way to starting her own operation before she landed a gig as curator at Brown University's Bell Gallery, which she began this week. So the last of these solo projects is an exhibit of curiously unassuming sculptures by Jamey Morrill of Providence at Above Providence Optical Gallery (75 Weybosset Street, through June 12).

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NOSTALGIC MONTAGE Buck's Denmark.

Morrill's Larvae (2009) is a group of seven clusters of green plastic soda bottles bound together by webs of red string, like models of molecules. Grid (2008) is a series of eight low structures, like small scaffolding or three-dimensional grids, made from wooden boards striped black and yellow like bumblebees or caution signs. Planks meet perpendicularly or at 45-degree angles. They form little islands across the floor, with white PVC pipes running through them, and almost linking the isolated pieces together.

The works harken back to 1960s Minimalism — though with a brighter palette. They're set right on the floor and made from industrial materials. The sculptures can suggest introductory lessons used to get students thinking about sculptural form and structure: Get a bunch of plastic bottles, lots of thread, and make some art from it. Morrill adheres to Minimalism's practice of focusing on subtle relationships among simple objects, the viewer, and the space they share. And like classic minimalism, it can be difficult, buttoned-up stuff seemingly predicated on the notion that if you concentrate on it hard enough and are worthy, you might discover (aesthetic) transcendence.

I liked Larvae when Morrill exhibited it at Rhode Island College's Bannister Gallery a year ago. The bright lighting there made the bottles glow, and highlighted the vivid contrast between the green and red. Here the lighting is more subdued, and the piece seems drab. Morrill is working at such a fine tolerance that it turns out these sorts of things matter.

Morrill's sculptures are strange objects, self-deprecatingly small and toylike, but at the same time asserting, by precise arrangements and snazzy colors, that they matter. He's definitely on to something, but I find myself appreciating them rather than being moved.

Just in time for summer vacations, Craftland presents "Souvenir Stand" (235 Westminster Street, through June 26). Guest curator Liz K. Sheehan of Worcester rounds up four artists from as far away as the Pacific Northwest or the other side of the Atlantic for a mini-meditation on the mementos we lug back with us to remember our happy times away. It's a fun and summery idea, but most of the art is too slight to carry it off.

The best work is Brooklyn artist Alyssa Zygmunt's souvenirs of gritty New York. She offers tiny metal bedbugs inside glass vials labeled with the scientific name "cimex lectularis" and single pigeon feathers in test tubes with labels identifying where she found them — the East Village, Union Square, Park Slope. She has added pictures of pigeons to the iconic I Heart NY logo on mugs, too.

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