Appropriation comes in many forms: homage, obscure archival excavation, irony, and good-old hero worship. Brooklyn-based artist Sarah Crowner tends toward homage, appropriating techniques or formal motifs as a way to get closer to artists she admires. Last year, she presented work responding to the ceramist Beatrice Wood. In Crowner’s most recent solo, she has expanded her interest to abstract painting in a Constructivist vein. For a 2009 series titled "Superficie Modulada, 1956" (Superficial Modulation), Crowner directly appropriated sections of Lygia Clarks early paintings, producing four large canvases, their sharp angles of black, gray, and white intersecting to create clean geometries. Some smaller canvases add colors into the mix, notably summery yellows, salmons, and fuchsias. On closer inspection we realize that Crowner has created her taut compositions by sewing pieces of fabric together, so that the edges of two colors are actually perforated seams. This provides an engaging variety of textures — a bar of black might be made from black cloth, or black gouache, or both — and lends an organic quality to what would otherwise be slick Constructivist copies.
Shown alongside the canvases are three groupings of hand-built pottery on stands. All unglazed, save for one spray-painted silver stalagmite, Crowner’s lumpy white vessels huddle together like Morandi compositions, and are peculiarly bottomless — lest you equate ceramics with domestic utility. What of this emphasis on the handmade, sewing, and clay sculpting? Strains of a feminist "art versus craft" debate arise, but too subtly to warrant any such reductive label. Instead, these two bodies of work point toward the value of dredging up and riffing on the endlessly fascinating story of 20th-century art — especially its lesser-known players — as a means for artists to discover their heroines, their selves.
"Sarah Crowner" originally appeared in the Summer 2009 issue of Modern Painters. For a complete list of articles from this issue available on ARTINFO, see Modern Painters' Summer 2009 Table of Contents.