January 17, 2012



Gay Outlaw, Nest (1999). Featured in Fifty Years of Bay Area Art: The SECA Awards, SFMOMA. Photo: author.

Gay Outlaw constructed Nest (1999) out of colored pencils, glued together and then belt sanded into the shape of a wasp nest. It is one of a series of pencil pieces the artist created in the 1990s.

Critics relate Outlaw’s work to minimalism. Fair enough. Outlaw acknowledges the influence. Her sculptures explore materiality, form, and space in minimalist ways. But minimalism isn’t usually this playful. Or this bizarre. Several different domains collide here to create a kind of conceptual and aesthetic shock.

The surrealists had a name for this: Convulsive Beauty. André Breton named one of Convulsive Beauty’s categories of possibility erotique-voilée (veiled-erotic). The gist of this concept is that the everyday object, by becoming something other than itself, releases suppressed desire. Perhaps Meret Oppenheim was thinking along these lines when she created her famous Fur Teacup and Saucer (1936).

Nest has the same kind of compressed power. Without disavowing its debt to minimalist sculpture, Nest gestures further back, to surrealist objects.



Comments (1)

  • Tucker Nichols says:

    what I like so much about looking at gay outlaw’s work (aside from her astoundingly great name) is that I can picture her trying to figure out what will happen to these materials and forms with each iteration. what’s a hexagon? what if you stretch it or slice it? hey it looks like a wasp nest. most of my favorite art has that kind of inquiry deep down, although it’s usually not so formal. her stuff is weird enough to keep it from being a lifeless formal experiment.

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