Wednesday, February 6, 2008
Koen, Seth: Witty Whittled Punctuation
by Marianna Stark
Seth Koen's work has evolved dramatically from the knitted amoebic soft sculpture he had been carefully crocheting for years. His new pieces are delicate long stretches of unvarnished maple that seem to defy gravity as they soar in the air. If you're searching for a way to classify this style of sculpture, Koen suggests "friendly minimalism."
The spirits of Sol LeWitt's conceptual line drawings, Alexander Calder's playful mobiles and Constantine Brancusi's graceful abstract birds are present in the gallery with Koen's work. "Cardinal Point" looks like a flying lasso. "Sway" is two wishbones. "Simple Gift" is an empty vase waiting for Valentine's Day flowers.
The special effects secret is tiny pins that secure the pieces to the wall or custom designed shelf (also called "display furniture"). Fortunately the display furniture comes with your purchase of the sculpture, in case you were wondering how you could set one up in your own home.
These sculptures are essentially line drawings in three dimensions. Carving wood and crocheting yarn turn out to be similar processes for Koen, each very methodical and incremental. In fact, Koen's interest in line goes all the way back to the undergraduate thesis show he exhibited at Hampshire College, "Sculpture or Drawing?"
Since his days in the intimate MFA program at Mills College in '01-'02, he has been knitting his signature whimsical organic shapes (many with sperm-like tails) in bright jellybean colors. The soft work is all done using the single crochet stitch, the most basic and simple one available to real-life knitters. Koen's work got him noticed at Mills, where he won two prestigious awards as a student: the Murphy Cadogan Fellowship, awarded to Bay Area MFA students nominated by their teachers in between their first and second years, and the equally prestigious Jay DeFeo Prize.
The Jay DeFeo Prize is awarded annually by Mills College to a graduating Master of Fine Arts student in the Art Department whose work demonstrates excellence and great promise. It is unique in that it bestows a substantial gift of money, exactly what a newly minted MFA needs, intended to help the emerging artist make the transition from school to the real world. The funds for this endowed Prize were stipulated in the will of the artist Jay DeFeo (American, 1929-1989), who was a professor of painting at Mills College from 1981 until her death. Koen considers himself fortunate to have been able to apply the money to a couple years' rent on a comfortable studio space.
Another opportunity that helped bridge the gap from student to working artist was the invitation to work as an assistant in the studio of his Mills teacher and mentor, sculptor Ron Nagle. While Nagle's media and methods are very different from Koen's, the sensibility and attention to detail are common factors. (Legendary California ceramicist Nagle is represented by the Rena Bransten Gallery).
Right after graduating from Mills, Koen was asked to participate in a group show at the nascent Gregory Lind Gallery. Lind says that he took notice of Koen because the artist already had developed "his own vocabulary" his own language." Lind began to officially represent Koen as his dealer in 2003. This is Koen's third solo show with the Gregory Lind Gallery.
Gregory Lind is known for showing art with clean, colorful graphics plus an intellectual zing, usually a tie to art history or science. He has a track record of discovering emerging artists and propelling them to national and international recognition. Sarah Bostwick, Marti Cormand and Sarah Walker are all young artists whose work has been purchased by major U.S. museums since signing on with Lind.