by Lorraine Heitzman

Pulped Fictions at the Torrance Art Museum highlights the many ways that cardboard and paper can be ingenuously manipulated. But this show is more than just a laundry list of clever techniques; it features artists who use their materials to create conceptually diverse art that is personal and expressive. Sometimes the materials are chameleon-like, camouflaged to mimic other materials, and at other times they are repurposed for their intrinsic qualities, capitalizing on their generic, expendable attributes.

Ann Weber belongs in the latter category. In the main gallery she has an imposing free-standing sculpture, YOLO, made from cardboard strips that are woven into an oversized gourd-like shape. It is voluminous but not weighty, both raw and elegant. The bulbous form on the bottom is made from colorful recycled cardboard wrapped in a crazy quilt pattern of advertising while the tapered shape on top is stark white accentuating the basket weave. Each strip is unapologetically stapled onto each other. In her statement, Weber claims to be influenced by Arte Povera and the idea/ethics of making something out of nothing. The exuberance of her sculpture reflects her joy at transforming and elevating common materials into an art object demanding scrutiny as it bounces between the organic and inorganic.

Some artists have found humor in recreating the familiar out of cardboard, whether it is Chris Tallon’s Tool Shop, DOSSHAUS’s installation, Garage Band, or the carefully constructed microscope by Chris Gilmour. Tool Shop is a loving homage to the home workshop and though it is rather crude compared to the meticulous Microscope (Zeiss) it is real enough for the viewer to suspend belief and enjoy the universal order and disorder of workbenches everywhere. Implied are the good intentions and ambitions behind all unfinished projects. Garage Band’s rougher edges seem apropos to the more youthful and alternative lifestyle of its subject. A drum kit, amplifiers, guitars, and in a self-referential nod, a stack of cardboard boxes make up DOSSHAUS’s decidedly analog set piece. Every component is painted black, white or grey, suggesting an old photograph, making this moment in time a tangible memory.

Some artists in Pulped Fictions treat cardboard and paper more like a blank canvas exploring the surfaces and pliability of the raw materials themselves. Manfred Müller best exemplifies this approach with multiple wall pieces. One series from 2009 is made up of painted paper shapes gently folded into curvaceous forms that reference the human body and coats. Mounted beautifully within simple deep frames, they explore notions of protection and evoke museum displays of mysterious artifacts. A later series from 2015-2016 brings these forms out of the box (literally). The work is heftier and more sculptural but with the same attention to delicate surfaces and forms.

Max Presneill’s thoughtfully curated show examines how artists can wring playful or poetic meanings from an underappreciated lowbrow material and the thirteen artists in this exhibit all bring something unique to the game. Pulped Fictions continues at The Torrance Art Museum through March 4, 2017. Artists include: Libby Black, DOSSHAUS, EVOL, Scott Fife, Chris Gilmour, Taro Hattori, Kiel Johnson, Manfred Müller, Michael Stutz, Chris Tallon, Vincent Tomczyk, Dani Tull, Ann Weber.

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