Reviews - William Wareham and Mirang Wonne at the Pacific Heritage Museum
Art week, October 1999
A long with irony, the yearning to see the infinite in the finite, and the desire to poeticize everyday life, one of the enduring legacies of Romanticism for contemporary art is fantasy. Like irony, fantasy long precedes Romanticism, but it was in the musical and literary works of the Romantics that it became central to aesthetics, and contributed to the claim that art-making was a distinctive and irreducible way of being in the world. Paradigmaticdly, in the early piano works of Robert Schumann, fantasy involves a subrational mode of working in which conventional constraints are lowered and canonical solutions abandoned; from whimsy, accidents, mistakes, hunches and dares, a fragile order emerges that is inconceivable without that very unforeseen process that embodies it. The artist does not so much as finish the work as break off or abandon a way of working.
The current exhibit at the Pacific Heritage Museum, showing works by Mirang Wonne and William Wareham, displays the continuing importance of fantasy. Wonne's work in a variety of media centers upon depictions of rocks, renderings that seem to draw out the hidden or unseeable forces that give a rock its integrity and solidity and to identify those forces with the movements of her hand. One group is of large, obviously hollow, loosely brushed models of rocks on the floor, mounted on walls, or wrapped and suspended with wire. Another group consists in diaphanous panels arranged in a square, with images scumbled upon it. Within each square is a small, flickering, dull reddish-orange light. With a dark acrylic background, Triptych: Rebirth-Freedom 1 presents meteor-like rocks cracking open and lava spewing out. Finally, a series of collages with titles referring to music, such as 'Fantasia' in A Minor, introduces Chinese script on stones set on three or four contrasting bands of ground. Besides the representation of rocks, what unifies Wonne's work stylistically is the loose handling of paint: brushed, daubed and freely dripped.
What's remarkable in Wonne's work is the revelation of how, by giving free reign to fantasy, the intention to investigate the integrity of rock turns into something like its opposite, the ongoing creation of evermore variegated surfaces without depth. The British aesthete Adrian Stokes once developed the thought that the sculpting of marble in the Italian Renaissance was bound to the unconscious double fantasy that marble, like limestone, was born in and solidified out of the ocean, and that handling the stone caused its interior to blossom forth: stone as a water flower. One senses by contrast that Wonne has come to abandon the thought that the integrity of the rock can be grasped through its origin or through interior. Broken open, a rock does not display its essence, hut only more rock. Disillusioned, the artist simply turns to a controlled production of unforeseeable surfaces. In a more recent group of work, Wonne dispenses with rocks and just pati-nates sheets of copper.
Wareham's sculptures work in a more familiar mode of relaxed, Bay Area Romanticism that attempts to integrate fantasy into the small-scale victories of everyday life. An early work from 1984, Two Pair^ —— shows the strong influence of David Smith with formally balanced steel members arranged totemically. In the characteristic works of the 1990s, a greater variety of bent, curved, or irregularly shaped elements are used, but the resulting sculpture is still carefully balanced, and the sense of planarity and frontality is retained. The route toward stability is achieved with more difficulty than earlier, but gravity is still defeated. This achievement is given seemingly allegorical expression in a series of works consisting of large quartered spheres, looking like wedges of an apple, placed precariously on top of one another. When the planarity of the works is deepened three-ciimen-sionally, Wareham turns them into chairs or tables, thus retaining the human scale and reference to the frontality of the human body. The pleasure in the works is in following the whimsical joining of elements and the improvised achievement of uprightness. Wareham's work is selfconsciously restricted in ambition, in order to better metaphorize the integration of de-stabilizing fantasy and routine order in everyday life.
lecturer in the art department at UC Berkeley.
William Wareham and Mirang Wonne— Redefining Space and Gravity: Works in Metal, Paper and Paint through June 2000 at the Pacific Heritage Museum, 608 Commercial St., San Francisco.