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Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take at the Walker Art Center

I love sculpture. Fundamentally, though, I am a ‘drawer.’ But I love spatial relationships and dimensionality. I’m interested in theatrical moments and choreographing experiences in space. I think as a drawer and make as a sculptor.” —Jim Hodges [1]

With butterflies, silk flowers, spiderwebs, mirrors, camouflage, and gold, Jim Hodges draws in space. Constantly assembling and disassembling natural imagery and everyday items, he creates objects and installations that invite viewers to consider mortality and memory. Co-organized by the Dallas Museum of Art and the Walker Art Center, Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take is the first comprehensive survey in the United States on the work of the New York–based artist. With nearly 75 pieces made from 1987 through the present, the exhibition brings together photographs, drawings, objects, and several room-size installations, showcasing Hodges’ commitment to probing yet poignant investigations of space and materiality.

Jim Hodges. Deformed, 1989; altered shopping bag; 30 1/2 × 34 in. Photo by Ronald Amstutz ©Jim Hodges.

Jim Hodges. Deformed, 1989; altered shopping bag; 30 1/2 × 34 in. Photo by Ronald Amstutz. © Jim Hodges.

Hodges began his career making objects from the dirt and waste around him, often destroying the finished result. This fascination with creation through destruction emerges early in the exhibition. In Deformed (1989), the artist deconstructs a purple pansy-printed paper shopping bag, splitting it along its seams. Installed flat and pinned to the wall, the resulting cruciform is an enigmatic totem. Likewise, in A Line to You (1994), Changing Things (1997), and You (1997), Hodges disassembles vibrant silk flowers, reassembling them variously into a vertical garland, an abstract wall drawing, and a vibrant tapestry. Hodges carefully transforms these everyday materials into poetic, ethereal objects that are like three-dimensional paintings.

Jim Hodges. ghost, 2008; glass sculpture in multiple parts; 35 × 22 × 22 in. overall. Private collection, London. Photo by Stephen White; courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery, London ©Jim Hodges

Jim Hodges. Ghost, 2008; glass sculpture in multiple parts; 35 × 22 × 22 in. overall. Private collection, London. Photo by Stephen White; courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. © Jim Hodges.

Jim Hodges. ghost (detail), 2008; glass sculpture in multiple parts; 35 × 22 × 22 in. overall. Private collection, London. Photo by Stephen White; courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery, London ©Jim Hodges

Jim Hodges. Ghost (detail), 2008; glass sculpture in multiple parts; 35 × 22 × 22 in. overall. Private collection, London. Photo by Stephen White; courtesy Stephen Friedman Gallery, London. © Jim Hodges.

Hodges’ commitment to drawing as his medium is evident throughout the exhibition, but particularly near its conclusion. One of the last spaces the viewer moves through is a corridor with twenty-one wood-grain drawings from the series On the Way Between Places (2009) lining the walls. Here the artist combines charcoal with his own saliva to make a forest, reconstructed not from observations of nature, but rather from his own remembrance of it. A similar play with artificial constructions of the natural world is echoed in a nearby gallery with Ghost (2008) as its focal point. The artist assembles a realistic miniature environment enclosed by a bell jar and made entirely of glass butterflies, spiders, and other insects, perched on a mound of dirt sprouting greenery and flowers. Rising in the center of the terrarium and towering over the other elements is a clear crystal plant—a literal ghost haunting its livelier neighbors. The intimate scale and choice of materials underscores the preciousness of the natural world.

Jim Hodges. on the way between places (21 of 21), 2009; charcoal, saliva on paper; 30 × 22 1/2 in. Photo by Ronald Amstutz ©Jim Hodges.

Jim Hodges. On the Way Between Places (21 of 21), 2009; charcoal, saliva on paper; 30 × 22 1/2 in. Photo by Ronald Amstutz. © Jim Hodges.

Formally evoking Lee Bontecou’s wall-mounted, black hole-esque sculptures, Hodges’ The Dark Gate (2008) explores perception, the power of scent to evoke memory, and the void. The viewer enters through a set of swinging wood doors and arrives in a square chamber made of wood planks, nestled within a pitch-black gallery. The wall immediately opposite the entrance confronts the viewer with a window, sharp steel blades protruding from its frame to form a threatening circular opening. Emanating from the razor-sharp tips of the knives is the musky, amber fragrance Shalimar—the perfume the artist’s mother favored—combined with a cologne Hodges wore at the time of her passing. The heady scent, in conjunction with the menacing blades and confined space, makes for an oppressive, claustrophobic experience. This is amplified when the viewer exits the inner chamber and enters the dark void of the gallery surrounding it. Moving around the center structure, the outer room is so effectively darkened as to make the space feel disconcertingly endless. Hodges presents the viewer with a confounding choice: confront the dim unknown or remain on its sharp precipice.

Jim Hodges. the dark gate, 2008; wood, steel, electric light, perfume, paint, flooring; 96 × 96 × 96 in. structure; overall dimensions variable. Private collection. ©Jim Hodges.

Jim Hodges. The Dark Gate, 2008; wood, steel, electric light, perfume, paint, flooring; 96 × 96 × 96 in. structure; overall dimensions variable. Private collection. © Jim Hodges.

Immediately preceding The Dark Gate, the viewer passes through a narrow corridor dotted with a selection from Hodges’ Movements series of wall-mounted sculptures. Each consists of shattered mirror bits mounted on canvas and arranged into seemingly random patterns. In Movements (Stage IV) (2009), Hodges’ oft-recurring spiderweb motif glints in the partial orb. Theatrically spot-lit like a disco ball, the mirrored fragments reflect light, illuminating the ceiling. Walking through the corridor is like moving through a solar system of these celestial objects, their light at times reflecting on the viewer’s body. The contrast in experience between Movements and The Dark Gate marks only one of the juxtapositions in this thoughtfully curated show. Give More Than You Take elucidates Hodges’ knack for creating immersive and engaging objects that register on several emotional levels.

Jim Hodges. Movements (Stage IV), 2009; mirror on canvas; 57 × 96 in. Collection Barbara Zomlefer Herzberg; courtesy McCabe Fine Art, New York. Photo by Ronald Amstutz ©Jim Hodges.

Jim Hodges. Movements (Stage IV), 2009; mirror on canvas; 57 × 96 in. Collection Barbara Zomlefer Herzberg; courtesy McCabe Fine Art, New York. Photo by Ronald Amstutz. © Jim Hodges.

Jim Hodges: Give More Than You Take is on view at the Walker Art Center through May 11, 2014.

[1] Olga Viso, “Choreographing Experiences in Space: Olga Viso Interviews Hodges,” http://www.walkerart.org/magazine/2014/jim-hodges-olga-viso

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