Inside/Outside: Katy Cowan: reflected-into-themselves-into-reflected

July 9, 2017 - October 29, 2017

Reflector (2017)

Opening reception: Sunday, July 9, 2017, 3-5 pm

A publication with an interview with Gabriel Ritter, Curator and Head of Contemporary Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, and an essay by Scott Cowan, will be published.

Katy Cowan: reflected-into-themselves-into-reflected includes seven new sculptures that begin in the gallery and spill out onto Lynden's grounds, as well as a series of preparatory drawings. The exuberant forms of Cowan’s painted wooden sculptures--prairie plants and landscapes will come to mind--fill the gallery, and bronzes, slipped into unexpected locations outside, provide a playful and subtle commentary on the not-quite-wild environment at Lynden.

Cowan describes her three bronze works on the grounds as a “gentle intrusion” into a space defined by monumental sculpture and a manmade landscape. When she began work on this exhibition, she recognized that “the powerful setting of Lynden” was impossible to ignore. Her use of bronze brings her work into immediate conversation with the permanent collection; she further complicates the dialogue by intentionally inserting the female body, and particularly the female hand, among the works of many male sculptors. This counterpoint between made and wild, male and female, past and present has led her to experiment with the bronze—a material with a very long history—investigating how to make works that are active from a substance frequently used for sculptures that are passive, permanent, and “almost perfect in their materiality.”

Cowan’s response is to pack her molds with markers of domestic life, references to the human body, and the studio cast-offs of a working sculptor; to embrace accidents; and to apply paint freely to surfaces. At the same time, she focuses on site and engages directly with the physical environment at Lynden: ponds, trees, fields. Staircase Descending a Nude quietly joins a wooden crutch supporting the sagging branch of a large beech tree, sharing its load, but a close look reveals a hyperactive surface of protruding hammers, noses, and bulging fingers. For Reflector, a work in Big Lake, she plays with the water’s reflective surface, implicating the viewer in the piece. reflected-into-themselves, a cast rope with text standing in a prairie, asks what it means to be a still life in a dynamic environment that never ceases to grow and move. It calls attention, Cowan notes, “to the difficulties of portraying the space you are in.”

In the gallery, the wood sculptures simultaneously reference domesticity and the world beyond the windows. For Cowan, the sculptures of prairie plants allude to the flowers she keeps in vases in her home. She returns to the complicated ontology of still life, creating a charged relationship between the living still life in her vase, the wooden still life on the pedestal, and the abundant life on Lynden’s grounds. The surfaces of these wooden works are variously inscribed with watercolor, enamel, and acrylic paint, lacquer, oil, colored pencil, and graphite--materials that they share with the drawings that trace the evolution of individual pieces.

Ultimately, Cowan views the exhibition as an extended reflection, and an ode to “very pensive beautiful moments that are particular to Wisconsin.” The phrase “reflected-into-themselves”--and Cowan’s palindromic title--comes from Hegel via Frederic Jameson. The phrase itself reflects the difficult passage of ideas, often nouns encapsulating a single idea, from German into English. Cowan has adopted it--and Hegel’s sense of reflection as an illuminating, dialectical process--as slightly awkward shorthand for a constellation of ideas that inform this exhibition in which all the sculptures are in dialogue; reflection describes both the properties of materials and the process of viewing; and sensitivity to site, or placement, reflects the artist’s conceptual practice.

About the Artist

Katy Cowan (b. 1982 in Lake Geneva, Wisconsin) received her BFA at the University of Puget Sound in Tacoma, Washington and her MFA at Otis College of Art and Design in Los Angeles. Last fall, she was included in the Wisconsin Triennial at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art, and recently opened her third solo exhibition at Cherry and Martin in Los Angeles. Cowan’s work has been included in the cross-medium exhibition Condensed Matter Community organized by the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Physical Sciences Laboratories and in as if form were some pitcher at Fourteen 30 Contemporary in Portland, Oregon. Recent solo and two-person exhibitions include Kate Werble (New York) and The Green Gallery (Milwaukee). Other group exhibitions include Cherry and Martin; the Poor Farm (Manawa, Wisconsin); Torrance Art Museum (Torrance, California), and Los Angeles Nomadic Division. She has lived and worked in Milwaukee since 2014, and is moving to Riverside, California, at the end of the summer. Cowan is represented by Cherry and Martin.

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