by Maria Porges
There is something pleasantly subversive about encountering Ann Weber’s recycled-cardboard sculpture in the twin corporate lobbies on either side of the glass skyscraper office building at 425 Market Street, near the Embarcadero in downtown San Francisco. (One lobby faces a courtyard off Market; the other faces Fremont Street.) Weber’s elegant abstractions seem to have made themselves at home, visually commandeering the spaces through a combination of scale (some are really quite large) and a quiet assertiveness. The 20 or so pieces, strategically distributed through both lobby spaces, were predominantly white — resonating handsomely with the black-veined white marble floors. A few, made from the more familiar brown corrugated cardboard, harmonized with the wood-paneled walls. In each space, Weber hung three basket-like, brown cylindrical shapes over the reception desk, high on the wall (hiding in plain sight, as it were); the other pieces were free-standing, alone or in small groups.
Weber, who studied ceramic sculpture with Viola Frey, began to work with cardboard over 20 years ago as a way to make monumentally scaled pieces that are also lightweight. Her technique combines weaving and layering strips of her chosen material with copious stapling, allowing her to construct rounded and organic shapes that allude to natural forms without explicitly describing them. When such works are encountered in a setting like 425 Market, references to high Modernist sculpture of the last century seem inescapable: marble or bronze by Henry Moore or Hans Arp, but most of all, to Barbara Hepworth’s graceful pierced ovals, especially in works like Bella Figura (2011). At the same time, Weber’s idiosyncratic inventions recall fragments of baroque architecture, suggesting older sources, as well as organic motifs– seeds and pods, or parts of bodies—or useful objects, allying her with contemporary figures such as Martin Puryear or Tony Cragg.
The fabrication methods Weber has developed become more or less invisible when seen from a distance, allowing the forms to be read as cohesive. When approached, though, their surfaces become a marvel of complexity, woven and layered material fastened with what must be thousands of staples and then covered with a glaze of polyurethane or shellac that gives the sculpture a slight sheen. In the lobby on the Fremont side of the building, there is an unmistakable relationship between the bulging, topiary-like curves of two immense brown sculptures (Almost 16 and 15 ½, both 2006) and the decorous trees lining the curb outside, visible through nearby floor-to-ceiling windows. The lobby’s deliberately liminal, transitional qualities are foregrounded by both the size of Weber’s pieces—which almost graze the high ceilings, like overgrown life forms—and this visual connection to the world outside.
If, as we learn in school, all vertical sculptural forms refer to the figure, and seeing Weber’s pieces in this context poses an interesting question: what, exactly, does ‘life-sized’ mean? Clearly, these reception spaces have an intended effect—a combination of awe (invoked by luxurious materials and grand scale) and an intimidating aspect, personified by the concierge guards standing behind their desk, making sure that everyone who enters belongs there. These sculptures’ easy, assured “personality”, especially the small groups Weber placed near the four Barcelona chairs at the side of each lobby, measurably warmed the place up, letting visitors know that they were not alone.
For public commissions, Weber has cast works in more permanent materials such as bronze or fiberglass. She notes, however, that with cardboard, evidence of their origins remains on the surface. I find this deeply comforting. There is something about the way these pieces stand at the shifting borderline between art and craft, abstraction and representation, which makes them alive, thrumming with a deeply satisfying tension.
About the Author
Maria Porges is an artist and writer who lives and works in Oakland. For over two decades, her critical writing has appeared in many publications, including Artforum, Art in America, Sculpture, American Craft, Glass, the New York Times Book Review and many other publications. The author of more than 60 exhibition catalog essays, she presently serves as an assistant professor at California College of the Arts in the graduate program in Fine Arts.
Ann Weber @ 425 Market closed August 3, 2013