Eye of the needle

Pub date August 12, 2008
SectionArts & CultureSectionVisual Art

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REVIEW During the fall of 2004, I interviewed Bruce Conner, who had no shortage of viewpoints regarding contemporary art. "Many people," he said, "will develop a style of painting or subject matter or content that appears to be very innovative, and their next solo exhibition will be made up of 20 paintings that are all the same, aside from tiny variations."

Lauren DiCioccio offers a remedy for just such a malaise. Though her current show at Jack Fischer Gallery isn’t fully solo — she’s exhibiting with Aliza Lelah — she’s crammed five or six exhibits’ worth of ideas into her half. The extreme density and the versatile expansiveness of DiCioccio’s approach acquires special potency when one considers its relationship to the space: working from the smallest gallery in 49 Geary, Fischer presents intuitive outsider work with casual aplomb. His best shows present an experience akin to stumbling out of a sterile mini-museum into the residential hotel room of a smart enthusiast.

At the moment, that room includes 47 pieces by DiCioccio that stem from at least a handful of specific individual practices. Like some other young Bay Area artists such as Ruth Laskey, DiCioccio’s brand of personal creativity involves obsessive repetition. In other words, she’s transutf8g craft into art, with imagination and without much pretense. She sews unusual.

In the realm of nostalgia, DiCioccio threads lightly. Her series of works at Jack Fischer include 14 semi-amazing facsimiles of 35mm slides made by hand-embroidering bridal organza; five sculptures constructed from individual paper pads and thread; three mini-Mead spiral notebooks with felt covers and cloth pages sporting machine-sewn lines; eight "color codification dot drawings," in which she assigns colors to letters of the alphabet then paints on frosted Mylar after placing it over a magazine page; 11 variations on the classic plastic "Thank You" shopping or food-delivery bag, again made with organza; and, perhaps most strikingly, six pieces in which she sews through the top page of an entire issue of the New York Times encased in muslin.

Got that? DiCioccio’s show demands more viewing time than it takes to process the above sentence-long paragraph, and rewards that commitment with contemplative pleasure. At a moment when the average artwork gets around five seconds of zombie dead-eye before going gazeless once again, that’s saying something. Some of what DiCioccio is doing is derivative, or at least bears an obvious kinship to other projects. Her "Thank You" bags, for example, are a proletarian cousin to Libby Black’s experiments in paper designer wear. The paper-rad effect of her paper pad configurations isn’t far from origami, even if the waterfall effect she creates with aqua thread in one piece is lovely. But her best ideas are matched by a skill and dedication that honors humor and open-ended playfulness.

The open-ended quality of DiCioccio’s work is evident in the color paintings, which use a cryptic-yet-ripe foundation of meaning: the recent "green" issue of Vanity Fair with Madonna on the cover. ("And incredibly, looking not a day older," reads the parenthetical title of one of these untitled works.) Here, DiCioccio’s color-by-letters method highlights the structural beauty of mastheads and two- or three-column text configurations complete with pull-quotes. As she covers the magazine and its text, she simultaneously teases out ironies about Madonna and the notion of eco-friendly paper periodicals.

Green turns into gray lady — and Madonna’s unforgivingly ageless brand of masculine femininity gives way dour old boys and even Old Glory — in DiCioccio’s Times series. There, her threads meet up with disposable, obsolete newspaper, a material not far from dust in more ways than one. As with DiCioccio’s 35mm slide facsimiles, which bear micro-images of landmarks like Mount Rushmore, there’s a sense of an American way of life nearing death, and the artist is smart and honest enough to play it every which way but heavy-handed. Instead of trying for perfection, she lets threads hang loosely, suggesting a spirit left behind.


Through Sat/16

Jack Fischer Gallery

49 Geary, Suite 440, SF

(415) 956-1178