Carving a Niche

PBICA's sculpture show makes a strong case for the relevance of three-dimensional art

The best work in the entire exhibition, however, can be found between that towering Jupiter and the Lightscape installation. It's by Sally Ordile, the only South Florida artist in the show, a transplanted New Yorker in Boynton Beach. She took up art seriously at age 56 and now, at 62, is participating in her first exhibition.

Some of Ordile's works are in fairly traditional media -- four serigraphs, a lovely pair of small abstracts in carved encaustic -- but her most powerful work by far depends heavily upon organic materials. Sometimes, the results are a mess. Threads No. 24 (2001), for instance, is a jumble of rope, twine, and rosary beads treated with gesso and piled on a wooden platform like so much pasta in a sauce gone very, very bad.

But Ordile can also get astonishing results with her simple ingredients. The four long, horizontal panels that make up Threads No. 40 (2001), affixed with acrylic, insulation, netting, and wooden dowels, suggest items unearthed from an archaeological dig. And Threads No. 45 (2002) is another mixed-media piece that incorporates one of her favorite ingredients to great effect: five wall-mounted palm fronds, treated with black gesso, dried and cracked to reveal unexpected contents.

Robert Taplin's Jupiter (2001) is perhaps the most striking piece in this exhibition
Robert Taplin's Jupiter (2001) is perhaps the most striking piece in this exhibition

The exhibition brochure and the wall panels next to individual works describe these key elements in Ordile's work as palm stalks, but it seems to me more accurate to characterize them as husks -- those big, twisted forms that peel off from certain varieties of South Florida palm trees. And in 14 Stations, Ordile transforms them into a breathtaking installation. These pieces of tropical detritus, each as long as six or so feet, have been lovingly cleaned and restored, coated with a semiglossy black gesso, and suspended from the gallery's ceiling, sometimes solo, sometimes in twos and threes.

Ordile has also embellished these exotic forms with "accessories," bits of black lace, rope, and barbed wire that are so thoroughly incorporated that they seem to be inseparable from their organic hosts, which makes this work even more compelling: It's almost impossible to tell where nature leaves off and the artist's hand intervenes.

According to the exhibition brochure, "For Ordile each figure symbolizes a woman's voyage down a path of self-sacrifice and humiliation." But for me, these dangling forms suggest freed, if still forlorn, versions of the bachelors in that touchstone of modernism, Marcel Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), making Ordile, in her belated debut as an artist, an unwitting heir to one of the greatest innovators of 20th-century art.

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