Nancy Baker: Delicate construction

Nancy Baker, installation view at Odetta Gallery

Contributed by Sharon Arnold / In her solo show “No Regrets,” Brooklyn-based mixed-media installation artist Nancy Baker winningly advances her trademark style of accretion, integrating text, found objects, glitter, paint, and ink into large-scale installation and wall sculpture.  When you walk into the light-filled space in Bushwick’s Odetta Gallery, your eye is immediately drawn to the exhibition’s main installation, No Regrets, after which the show is named. It’s light, airy, layered, and intensely packed with information. Bright color and lace-like patterns dominate, architectural constructions purposefully capture both light and shadow as material, and a cataract of paper and found objects cascades to the floor. This is painting in three dimensions, an exploded view building on styles found in Baker’s previous work but more expansive and three-dimensional. She has abandoned the armature of paper and panel and allowed her compositions more room to breathe and radiate.

Nancy Baker, Fourth Amendment Paper Construction, 2018, 24 x 24 x 12 inches

The exhibition incorporates a number of constitutional themes. Pieces titled Second Amendment, Fourth Amendment, and Eighth Amendment are latticed domes built of excerpts from the Bill of Rights. Their serious messaging, as well as their intricate construction, belies the lightness of the delicate materials. The artifice is comforting, ostensibly holding the promise of warmth, security, and shelter from harm, yet it is also as thin and fragile as a veil.

Customarily, Baker has worked formalistically, employing small- to large-scale collages built from hand- and machine-cut digital prints on paper of everyday objects such as chains, rivets, bolts, and connectors to transform otherwise prosaic items into building blocks for robust installations. These digital cut-outs become the architecture of complex patterns and designs. Familiar words, phrases, and directives, often from literary sources, weave their way through a labyrinth of visually opulent three-dimensional environments made from drips, strings of beads, diamond-shaped jewels, glitter, and sparkling machine fixtures. Though often biting or defiant, the humor of the text softens each statement. One effect could be to lower your guard and open your mind to the warnings or commands that the words impart.

In No Regrets, Baker’s words are specifically directed towards our collective anxiety in a relentlessly discomfiting political climate. In this piece, she refrains from hedging her statements with humor. Phrases such as Fewer AnswersNo Illusions, Some Ideas, and Little Idea How emerge to mirror a nation’s mounting anger and frustration at an evasive, incompetent, and frequently malevolent government that so far appears largely unaccountable.

The works in “No Regrets” hover in front of you. The array of color and form compels us to tease and pull apart the tangles to see what lies beneath the spectacle. Their physicality and complex structure reflect painstaking work, while their delicateness indicates vulnerability. Baker is not messing around; she is no longer making light of the situation. She does not succumb to despair, however. The sobering text suggests that in spite of the recent shock and trauma, there is still moral clarity and integrity – and therefore hope.

Nancy Baker, No Regrets, detail
Nancy Baker, installation view at Odetta Gallery
Nancy Baker, installation view at Odetta Gallery

Nancy Baker: No Regrets,” Odetta Gallery, Brooklyn, NY. Through April 8, 2018.

About the author: Sharon Arnold is a writer, curator, and founder of Bridge Productions, a hybridized commercial/experimental space focusing on process-based work and projects. She also writes Field Notes, a bi-monthly online arts column for Seattle’s City Arts Magazine.

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2 thoughts on “Nancy Baker: Delicate construction”

  1. Beautiful work which draws me into this unbeautiful moment in US history . Thank you for thoughtful work Nancy Baker and for insightful review Sharon Arnold. And thanks to Two Coats of Paint for consistently covering painting and arts that inspire us all!

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