Gallerist Hahn Ho has created a puzzle. For her latest exhibition at Cydonia Gallery, she's paired Dallas-based artist Frances Bagley with Portland artist Ryan Burghard for an exhibition she curiously compares to the human drive for marriage. In Where You End and I Begin: Relational Dialetics, Ho places a number of Bagley's older works in conversation with a number of works from Burghard, allowing the visitor to cognitively connect them.
Many of the works on display bear no inherent resemblance, which encourages the viewer to create the interplay between the two. On the surface, the concept for the show is so theory-driven it can be off-putting. But you don't really need to brush up on your Bourriaud to find the dialog between the works interesting. The visual connections can happen entirely within your own frames of context — in the shapes, materials and subject matter of the pieces.
Bagley has been living and working as a visual artist in Dallas for decades. Her sculpture, which has exhibited internationally, takes various forms, but throughout her career she remains preoccupied with humanistic concepts and materials. Her works are sometimes fleshy and other times strung together by human hair. She's fascinated by the way sculpture fills or creates space. Her studio is filled with intricate contraptions, where one body-like form seems to counterbalance another form precariously dangling by a rod across the room. It was during an open studio of Bagley's and her husband, Tom Orr, when Ho saw Bagley's older pieces and later presented the idea for the show. Until then, Bagley hadn't heard of Burghard.
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Walking into the show, there's at least one obvious connection between their work. Bagley's "Perch" pairs perfectly with Burghard's "Hold." Both prominently feature a braid that resembles in separate but similar ways the hair of a young girl. Bagley's work was made in 2000; Burghard's was made earlier this year. Hers is a bit more delicate, as if Rapunzel's braid was recently chopped to be donated to Locks for Love. Or perhaps the braid becomes a woman literally perched on a steel pedestal. In contrast, Burghard take on a more masculine narrative, looking like a rope aboard a ship ready for seamen to tug a sail up to its height. And yet, both of these works seem connected to the exhibition's larger narrative of union, the weaving together of things. This, for me, became the key on a map for the rest of the exhibition. Other relationships between the works are sometimes more tenuous.
Burghard's work seems deeply invested in ideas of marriage, although never in literal ways, while Bagley's work bears more singularity. One wall is filled with a series of photographs, in which disparate images are in conversation with one another. The viewer builds relationships through color or shapes within the image. In some of the images, it's revelatory, in others it seems like a stretch. But the show isn't just about the connections, it's about the conversation between the two. This is true of the entire exhibition. On its own each piece on display is worth a second glance, but together, allowed to stand alone and yet belong in the shared space, it becomes this dissonant symphony for the eyes, occasionally coalescing into moments of unadulterated brilliance. And like a great marriage, the works remain individual, yet under the guise of the exhibition, they are together.
With Where You End and I Begin, Cydonia Gallery continues its impeccable track record. This marks the first time the gallery has shown a local artist, but thanks to the shrewd eye of Ho, the exhibition offers an insightful perspective on Bagley, while also placing her in a greater context.
See Where You End and I Begin through January 9. 2016. More at cydoniagallery.com.