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Rebecca Kamen's "Forces of Nature"

Abstract Ideas


In addition to the Glen Allen show, cultural bridges are being crossed at Coincidence Gallery with Rebecca Kamen's series of sculpture and drawings, "Forces of Nature." Kamen professes to be strongly influenced by Navajo Indian culture and Chinese art and philosophy. While this is helpful in attempting to mentally grasp her constructions, it is only, at most, a footnote. What does seem most prominent in Kamen's art is her joy in the formal relationships of material, surface, shape and fabrication.

Kamen's wall sculptures are made of wood and Mylar. The Mylar, treated with graphite and acrylic wash, is draped over wooden armatures that are painted to look metallic. It is not clear why real metal rods are not employed instead of this trompe l'oeil method, but regardless, the added effort offers a pleasing surface to cradle and brace the more fragile Mylar shroud. Once she has mastered this combination, the artist explores variations on the theme — a process that results in a continuity that is not monotonous, but energetic and vigorous.

Perhaps the real tie between Native American and Chinese beliefs and the results of Kamen's works is found in a quote from the artist: "Abstraction comes from something real; it distills the essence of the form." This distillation was a celebrated element of 20th-century abstract art, but it was anything but modern. Prehistoric imagery and "primitive" non-Western cultures have used abstraction from the onset. Works that demonstrated this distilled essence over superfluous detail were revered as powerful and magical in their sophisticated simplicity. This elegance of simplicity is clearly evident in Kamen's creations.

The most striking characteristic of the wall sculptures is their overt cleanliness. Materials are lovingly polished and fine-tuned and meticulously manipulated. There is not a nail out of place — they are precise; they are perfect. While this lack of spontaneity may seem counteractive to the more intuitive approach of Chinese art per se, it accentuates the machinelike aesthetic of minimalist art and further underlines Kamen's pleasure in dealing with material and formal concerns, above and beyond cross-cultural currents. "Forces of Nature" hangs at Coincidence Gallery through March 25.

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