Treasure trove

By GREG COOK  |  September 7, 2010

Alison Owen’s “Divisibility,” which is billed as the Providence artist’s first solo show in New England, redecorates the Bell Gallery lobby through October 31. Owen’s wall installation, in which she turned dirty mop water into a rococo “wallpaper” design, was the standout piece in last February’s “2010 RISCA Fellowship Exhibition” in Warren.

Here she paints walls with a gray grid and a “wallpaper” pattern of circles, leaves, and diamonds on the edge of coalescing or falling apart. Atop the pattern on one wall, she hangs plasterboard panels featuring similar patterns, lines of thread, and bits of molding; on another wall, she mounts two “canvases” with the “wallpaper” designs creeping onto parts of their transparent or semi-transparent surfaces.

Owen’s work is powered by both the beauty and optical illusions of the patterns. Her designs here appear silvery from a distance, but up close you find that they’re lint and dust and dirty mop water. This calls forth questions about relationships between beauty and class, between home decorating and housework. Owen’s technique also echoes ’60s and ’70s art — Pattern and Decoration (over the past decade locals like Xander Marro and Pippi Zornoza have continued in this tradition), Mierle Laderman Ukeles’s feminist mopping performances, Sol Lewitt’s Conceptualism, and Robert Ryman’s Minimalism.

All very interesting, but this design, which seems to be channeling the spareness of Philip Johnson's Modernist building, doesn’t sizzle. What made her Warren installation a showstopper was its lushness — of pattern, of illusion, of ideas. Owen is poised for a breakout performance, but paring things down  here, she saps some of her art’s allure.

Read Greg Cook's blog at

< prev  1  |  2  | 
  Topics: Museum And Gallery , Museums, Brown University, Brown University,  More more >
| More

Most Popular
Share this entry with Delicious
  •   EVOLVING PERSPECTIVES  |  July 23, 2014
    Somewhere around the 1950s, Florence Leif drastically changed her style.
  •   DOODLES, LIGHTS, AND DREAMS  |  July 16, 2014
    Gibson Prouty has found a muse — classic yellow pencils with pink erasers on the end.
  •   SEEING ANEW  |  July 09, 2014
    The aim of the RISD Museum’s eight newly renovated galleries for its permanent collection of fashion and Egyptian and Asian art seems to be “quiet contemplation.”
  •   BRIGHTNESS AND DARKNESS  |  June 25, 2014
    Constellations of mirror ball clouds dangle from the ceiling on pink cords at the center of the room and slowly rotate and sparkle. You’re invited to peer though weird, lumpy crystal-telescope-things.
  •   FIGHTING THE POWER  |  June 18, 2014
    It was around 1983 when Providence artist James Montford and a friend posed as photographers to check out the Ku Klux Klan rally in Norwalk, Connecticut.

 See all articles by: GREG COOK