SIMPLE AND CHARISMATIC Hassenfeld’s Blue Treen.
The subject of the 10-artist survey "Hunters and Gatherers" at Cade Tompkins Projects (198 Hope Street, Providence, through March 31) is building art from recycled scraps. As far as fine art is concerned, this assemblage tradition is about a century old now (though stitching together lovely things from old scraps ain't anything new to crafty folks like quilters). For much of that time, this sort of art has had a rusty, junkyard look (think Robert Rauschenberg's 1950s Combines). But over the past few decades, assemblage art has gotten brighter and shinier, in part because all our plastic stuff doesn't age the way wood or fabric or metal does, and partly because many of today's so-called "Scatter Trash" artists just buy the plastic laundry baskets, trash cans, and so on that they use new (think Jessica Stockholder).
In Providence, recent assemblage frequently has a feeling of art growing out of the rubble of mill buildings gutted and razed during the Renaissance City's urban renewal. Tompkins favors the Rauschenberg-style patina of wear but mainly eschews this art in the ruins vibe.
Brooklyn artist Kirsten Hassenfeld, whose installation of giant paper chandeliers wowed at Brown's Bell Gallery in 2009, returns with assemblages that recall the paper trees and towers that opened her Brown show. Here she stacks blue and white bottle caps, jar lids, plates, cookie tins, and buttons, then suspends a couple dozen of these groups from the ceiling. Her method is simple but charismatic, bringing to mind Delftware, exquisitely decorated Eastern European Easter eggs, onion dome cathedrals, and Star Wars' Cloud City.
FOUND SCULPTURE Lapham’s Perfectly Preserved Sea Shore #5.
Some years back Providence artist Scott Lapham realized that the junk that collects along beaches' high water lines amounts to found sculptures. Then he figured out that by repeatedly coating these tangles of stuff with resin over several visits, he could get them to stick together enough to remove and actually be a sculpture that you hang on a wall. Perfectly Preserved Sea Shore #5 is a deflated ball, Styrofoam, a plastic bottle, yellow caution tape, a plastic spoon, and a feather nested in a vortex of sticks. The main composition might be too simple — a curve that sort of curls around the ball at the bottom — but Lapham's root idea is one of the most ingenious observations to come out of Providence art in the past several years.
English artist Nick Sayers's Hyperbolic Coffee Cactus is a constellation of wood coffee stirrers pinned together with toothpicks and suspended from a string like a model of an atom by way of a kids' craft project. The thing looks like it shouldn't stick together — too many pieces, not enough structural support. That it does is part of the magic of its seeming fragility. It can spin on a breath of air.
"Enter | Re-enter," a pop-up show organized by R.K. Projects (1 Sims Avenue, #101, Providence, through March 3), adroitly rhymes references to nests, seeds, wombs, and other bodily organs in sculptures by Lauren Fisher of Providence and Lu Heintz of Greene.