3/06/10 9:10 PM
One of the great ironies of contemporary art is how work made from familiar materials can sometimes be so confusing to so many people. How this transformation occurs varies from the deft painterliness of Jasper Johns’ encaustic flags and targets to the casual assemblages of current sculptors like William Cordova. Or Jack Shifman. Take an untitled work by Shifman which consists of a beige heart-shaped soap and a dingy white plastic soap dish. What to make of them? They are unremarkable in every way, giving not a hint or a clue to the meaning that they must have, must have, if Shifman is bothering to display them as art. That, after all, is one of the givens of art, that it is worth wrapping one’s mind and eye around, that there is something to be found on the other side, if one is just willing to look and thing hard enough. But, I’ll admit it, Shifman’s got me stumped. As far as I can see, it’s just soap and a dish to put it in. What to do now except make some cheap pun about washing my hands of it all?