Hawthorn Contemporary is Milwaukee’s latest art gallery, a broad and spacious venue with crisp white walls.
It is new, but not really.
Hawthorn is housed in the former home of the Pitch Project in Walker’s Point, and while this is a new venture, the focus on diverse and challenging art remains consistent from its predecessor.
The first exhibition in the new chapter of this space is Relics, Fibs, Trash and Treasures, a solo exhibition by Nicola López.
The exhibition is dominated by an installation called “Salvage.” Perusing its walls reveals familiar objects and detritus, including orange plastic netting from construction zones, barbed wire tamed into a neat coils, electrical wire and rusty bolts, all pinned up like specimens.
Among these are cutouts of prints, many with a vaguely architectural flavor. They are scraps, excerpted bits from a whole we cannot see.
These hundreds of pieces are fastened to the wall, each carefully arranged to hold its own space. Their relationships to neighboring forms are carefully considered. This attentiveness is what makes the play of shapes and relative weights and volumes curious and interesting.
A black metal piece, for example, looks like miniature scaffolding, organized and solidly strong, except it happens to be missing a lower corner, upending its structural integrity. Some inches below is a tiny bundle of wire, more like the equivalent of paper clips masquerading as twigs. The whimsy of this teensy bit — and its formidable but compromised companion — are one among many engaging juxtapositions, but the volume of the work is what is really most jarring.
We all know, to grossly understate the matter, that there is a lot of stuff in the world. Think about the pieces and parts in the abandoned factory or the corners of the workshop, the castoffs of building sites and the plastics poisoning the ocean, even space debris floats high above us.
That is what a lot of the stuff in this installation is like. It was manufactured with some purpose, but somewhere the end of its utility was found. That chain on the wall didn’t suit the chain saw anymore, and that plastic rope weathered into a mess of unruly strands and stretched fibers. So here they sit — though in an art gallery we might consider their presence and possible histories a little more carefully, maybe even considering our own excess of stuff.
Of particular interest in Relics, Fibs, Trash and Treasures is that “Salvage” is paired for the first time with prints from López’s Urban Transformation series. In the framed pieces, the language of industrial and architectural materials is somewhat tamed and compressed into dense images with mixed media and three-dimensional surprises. The images are ostensibly bounded by square edges of their composition, but routinely break outside of these edges. Winding trails of pipes or wires, or small explosive bits, reject the constraints of geometric orderliness.
References to buildings and the lived environment are significant in López’s work. Though she’s based in Brooklyn, New York, her aesthetic and conceptual vocabulary can be applied to a global community. It teems with objects, elements and excess, along with each of us who inhabit the place.
'Nicola Lopez: Relics, Fibs, Trash and Treasures' continues through May 26 at Hawthorn Contemporary, 706 S. Fifth St., Milwaukee.