Marsha Mack and Lindsay Smith Gustave – Reviewed by Derrick Velasquez
Marsha Mack and Lindsay Smith Gustave are masters of expansion and collapse. Their exhibition Animal, Vegetable, Mineral at Leon Gallery taps into the notions of abundance, progeny, and growth that temper human desire. With works that shed light on the microscopic, constituent cells of natural and unnatural objects and with imagery that alludes to our contemporary experience of dwelling, the two artists share the space seamlessly and offer viewpoints that are a refreshing reprieve in the midst of heavy times.
Leon Gallery is proud to welcome back Raafi Rivero for the first gallery exhibition of his powerful social justice project, Unarmed.
Unarmed is an ongoing series of sport jerseys in memoriam of black victims of police violence. Each jersey is created in the colors of a victim’s local sports team. The number displayed on each jersey represents the person’s age when they were killed. Stars, if present, indicate the number of times the person was shot. The Sean Bell jersey, for instance, is a number 23, in New York Knicks colors, with 50 stars.
The exhibition features the full series of designs, thirteen so far, and images from a series of street installations of Unarmed that were displayed across the country throughout the Fall of 2020. Included in the exhibition will be installations, a documentary video, and a memorial to Elijah McClain, in which visitors will be able to participate. Rivero says, “Unarmed feels more like a calling than a brand, more like a mission than an art project, more like a passion project than activism. It is all three.
Artist Bio: Raafi Rivero has directed numerous short films, advertisements, and music videos in addition to work in design. His directing credits include a suite of promos for HBO’s True Blood, content for Microsoft, Sony, The Rockefeller Foundation, and an Art Directors Club award-winning viral campaign for the Maryland Lottery. Their Eyes Were Watching Gummy Bears, a 2010 short film, played more the 30 film festivals to date, winning honors in multiple cities. Raafi’s music videos for Ghostface Killah and Styles P have aggregated over a million views online. 72 Hours: a Brooklyn Love Story?, Raafi’s first feature film, premiered at the LA Film Festival in 2016 and is currently airing on Starz Network.
Raafi holds and MFA in Film from Howard University, and a BA in Art/Semiotics from Brown University. His writing about new media has appeared in The New York Times.
This exhibition was sponsored in part by The Foundation for Contemporary Arts.
Like many of you, I have spent the last eight months secluded, and didn’t leave the house for the first three. I did what I know how to do, making images with the materials I had at hand, scraps of plywood and drywall, crayons, pencil and spray paint, a diminishing supply of acrylic paint. I quickly gave up on responding to an omnipresent and ever shifting news cycle, an impossible chase. With a singular exception, I found it nigh impossible to summon past grandiosity, instead focusing on smaller, more intimate pieces. Turning inward as a form of respite, working out of a delirious hope to distract, to keep busy, to give myself purpose in a world falling apart.
I feel like we are passing through a collective chrysalis, an upturned caged domesticity. As I paced a rut in my backyard, so too I found myself returning to the same dead ends in my studio. Erudite gestures of casual indifference, airy contentious groups, ruptured single figures, these crumpled anxious odalisques.
I am hesitant to call them studies, as a study insinuates that anything will come of them. Instead, to borrow a term from my friend Artur Pena, I like attempts. Attempts to occupy myself, attempts to find interest, to excite my eye, to fill the space new people and experiences would have inhabited. I can’t let go of the feeling that this is far less than you deserve, and for that I apologize, but it is my hope that you find me as I am, somewhere in the gesture.
Artist Statement Animal, Vegetable, Mineral is a two person collaborative exhibition two years in the making. Artists Lindsay Smith Gustave and Marsha Mack hybridize their disparate practices to ruminate on questions of nature versus human nature, each uniquely analyzing the formation and function of our domestic surroundings. Natural elements—animal, vegetable, and mineral—are thematic foundations of this exhibition, utilized to portray the interaction with and memories of our domestic environment when they are no longer ‘of nature.’ Works by Gustave and Mack depict these elements as signifiers of extravagance, perceived value, and false comfort in a changing world. Spanning seasonal and massive global change, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral has taken on new meaning in this year of pandemic and quarantine as exercises in isolation and criticism of creature comforts.
What began as a call and response slowly evolved into a cross pollination of ideas and forms, resulting in works that complement each other from opposite ends of the aesthetic spectrum. Lindsay Smith Gustave’s practice, underscored by patience, stillness, and beauty, which began as methodical drawings, currently utilizes ethereal materials such as neutral toned chiffon fabrics, drawn taut and embroidered. Vintage glass seed beads are hand sewn into these sheer fabrics adding a dimensional element with the play of shadow. Imagery of hands, household goods, and discarded fruit peels speak to intimacy, the body, and domesticity. Drawings, beaded works, and video portray an ongoing relationship to domestic objects, a relationship heightened against the backdrop of pandemic.
Departing from Gustave’s subtler gestures, Marsha Mack’s sculptures and installations revel in material tension. Embracing mass-produced consumer products ranging from aseasonal grocery store florals to fine cut gemstones, overcompensation acts as intervention to socially conditioned shopping environs and the compulsory convenience of the retail landscape. The concept of value is called into question, comparing the simulated against the natural in the markets of domesticated animals, selectively bred flora, and choice earth minerals, highlighting the illusory nature of preciousness. Like the sparkle of a wink caught across the room, playfully disarming works flirt with the promise of collapse that is inextricably tethered to excess. Presented as pastel vignettes seated within expansive backdrops, Mack punctuates Gustave with intentionally maximalist, yet harmonious, opposition.
In an endless cycle of precious bloom and eventual decay, Gustave and Mack take turns adding nuance to an amorphous conversation regarding individual agency in the conscious and subconscious curation of the world around us, especially in a time when we have no choice but to live among our “things.” Whether it’s defining one’s identity with a handmade artisan planter, or masking vulnerability in the glare of lab grown diamonds, a curious conclusion is reached by the commingling of vastly differing artistic visions. These subject-objects are stricken from context, pared down to the essential, to draw attention to the voids between ourselves and those objects. Consumerist traditions of still life and portraiture are injected with a dose of alienation while examining connections with these objects, or lack thereof. Through periods of feast and famine, Animal, Vegetable, Mineral trains its focus on the physicality of objecthood in the contemporary experience in its most beautiful and decadent moments.
Lindsay Smith Gustave Bio Lindsay Smith Gustave lives and works in Denver, CO. Gustave received a BFA with Honors in printmaking in 2007, and a Master’s in Art History in 2014, both from the University of Denver. A multidisciplinary artist, she seeks to express the remnants of mundane existence through domestic and natural artifact, thus establishing a link between a landscape’s reality and that imagined by its observer. Reproductions of specific moments or vague memories infuse them with meaning by challenging the division between memory and immediate experience. Gustave has worked at the Denver Art Museum, Clyfford Still Museum, and David B. Smith Gallery, and was a board member of Denver Art Museum’s CultureHaus. She has exhibited work at Alto Gallery, Georgia Art Space, and Union Hall. Gustave has been featured as a Colorado Creative in Denver’s Westword.
Marsha Mack Bio Marsha Mack (San Rafael, CA) holds an MFA in Ceramics and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Women’s and Gender Studies from Syracuse University, and a BFA in Ceramics from San Francisco State University. Mack’s texturally rich, process-intensive sculptures and installations honor playfulness and introspection as equals. Her ongoing interest in cultural consumption and the formation of identity serves as wellspring for visual and associative cues, giving rise to questions of personal vs universal symbol, mixed race identity, and the emotional potential of confection.
Mack has presented projects and exhibitions with the Museum of Contemporary Art Denver (Denver, CO), Black Cube Nomadic Museum (Englewood, CO), Lane Meyer Projects (Denver, CO), PØST (Los Angeles, CA), The Yard (Colorado Springs, CO), and the Galleries of Contemporary Art (Colorado Springs, CO). Marsha is currently the Associate Director of David B. Smith Gallery (Denver, CO), a ceramic instructor at Foothills Park and Recreation District (Littleton, CO), and is an artist in residence at RedLine Contemporary Art Center (Denver, CO).