At Oliver Francis, Rachel De Joode's "Real Things" Work, Until She Describes Them

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See also: "Rachel De Joode's Brief and Wondrous Art," a preview of the show.

I left Rachel De Joode's "Real Things" show at Oliver Francis Gallery, subtitled "Explorations In Three Dimensions," feeling nagged by this question: Is ascribing meaning to an artwork the job of the artist or the viewer?

De Joode's exhibit suggests a real chasm between the work and its intent, at least as described in the printed list of works at the front of the gallery. Should you read that stuff before or while looking at the work itself? Hell no. You don't want anyone else -- not the artist, not the gallery head, not an educator -- interfering with your experience of this art, telling you what to think before you think it.

One piece, "Cosmic Latte Crust," is up on a high pedestal in a small room with three other pieces. "Half-buried dead thing up high" is what I wrote down, but I also could have written "poop in the desert." It is apparently supposed to represent pizza crust, which is something many of us know intimately and do not associate with dead things. You can mention Johns Hopkins in the description if it makes you happy, but I was left only with an impression of poop in the desert.

"Statue Being Unveiled" is a freaky hybrid of photography and sculpture. It's flat and tall and gruesomely chunky at the bottom, where clay starts congealing from the long locks of the upside-down woman in the photo. The piece is set away from the wall as a sculpture would be, but the flip-side has nothing to see, so you're trapped in this mindfuck of wanting to look at this photograph as if it were a sculpture, and that is fascinating stuff. Since the sheet is just a two-dimensional picture of a sheet, you are denied its billowy draping, so somehow that weird little stump of clay becomes coveted. It looks almost edible, like coffee ice cream (delicious!), and it totally, totally works: 2D vs. 3D as torture for the visually engaged.

Oh, but wait, I must have misunderstood. It's called "Statue Being Unveiled: Myself Standing Upside Down in 2 Dimensions." The description reads: "This faux statue depicts the artist standing upside down, posing as if to be an unveiled statue." Nothing about this piece says "statue." If anything, it looks like the arm is about to pull the sheet off of a naked woman, who is alarmed by that idea (statues in general don't have surprised eyes). Reading the description, even after walking away from the art, kind of ruined it for me.

There is other compelling work here, like a print of a photograph of a bruise projected in a corner; two tilted, crumpled "faux" canvasses with Hubble telescope images; and a photo of a llittle sculpture somehow balancing inside a set of blinds, backlit by the sun.

I was surprised to read afterward that there was supposed to be a robot. I was more surprised that the robot was just a platform on wheels with two walls that I thought must be there for some later performance. It wasn't moving while I was there (it was earlier, apparently), and Dallas has really high robot standards. It is called "Corner In Space," described as "a sculpture of a rotating and moving )life-size) gallery corner." But a gallery corner is just a corner, sad but true.

Rechel De Joode: Real Things - Explorations In Three Dimensions" runs through September 8th at Oliver Francis Gallery.

Betsy Lewis is a freelance writer in Dallas. Her work has appeared on Glasstire and Art and Seek.

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