Forgotten utilitarian objects need new homes. They can transmute into something less everyday, more worthy of attention: a metal milk crate that supports a tattered tower of rags and scraps; a strip of cheap shirt that seems to warm the wooden block it wraps. Nancy Shaver is a master of the reassignment of abandoned yard-sale items to more eccentric contexts.
In her recent show, “Three sisters, four beauties and a work-horse,” her sixth with Feature since 1987, imperfectly gridded wall pieces mingled with three freestanding sculptures. Named Daisy, Fanny and Coco (all 2011), the floor sculptures may have been the three sisters of the show’s title. Upright rectangular sandwiches of upholstery, painted cardboard and wood, all held in place by pieces of metal, they look quite different from the front than from the back.
From the front, Fanny is like a signboard, with geometric shapes awkwardly painted on ragged layers of cardboard and fabric frayed at the edges. From the back, the sculpture seems more naked, bearing, on a white ground, a hand-scrawled pattern of curving lines and a few humble colored squares. It has a sturdy presence, despite its assertively handmade structure of remaindered materials. The sculpture is anchored by several metal triangles, gently rhyming along its bottom edges on both sides—certainly more than it needs, from an engineering perspective.
In the largest (76-by-55-inch) wall piece, Incline, decline, outside Walmart (2009), two vertical grids made of wood blocks—some painted, others covered in patterned fabric—are arranged side by side, suggesting a game board or chunky pixelation in three dimensions. The blocks are layered at varying depths, and a metal rod partially subdivides them along a diagonal. Visual affinities among them seem mostly happenstance, except for a few clusters of plaid fabric-covered blocks. The slight variations in plaids—the changing widths of lines, the different color combinations—become a joke on the Minimalist grid, if not a comical reminder of the pointless infinity of pattern used in textile design.
Shaver’s assemblages are like dilapidated totems. She transforms mass-produced materials that are prized for comfort, ease and cheapness, rather than craftsmanship, into mutant hybrid abstractions. Although comprising remnants of mundane, day-to-day life, they are bearers of magic and wit. Shaver brings our attention to the oddness of a culture that creates so many throwaway materials while simultaneously making monuments to its own permanence.
Photo: Nancy Shaver: Fanny, 2011, scrap metal, found upholstery and mixed mediums, 66 by 27 by 20 inches; at Feature.