It’s quite rare that a body of work produced by a Guggenheim Fellow of Fine Arts finds a direct path to a commercial gallery, but Eva Chimento, Co-Founder and Director of LAM Gallery, has managed to coordinate such a set of circumstances.
Chimento’s gallery is currently exhibiting unforgettable curios by celebrated Los Angeles artist Phyllis Green in Walking the Walk. This exhibition is the culmination of a project proposal that won Green the Guggenheim fellowship in 2014, and it’s clear why such a lauded institution chose to endorse her vision – her artworks are completely seductive in their innovation, intelligence, and design.
Green created Walking the Walk after a seminal trip to India, in pursuit of a fresh frame of mind in which to view the world. Drawn to the concept of enlightenment, Green began to study the Upanishads, the oldest of sacred Indian spiritual texts.
The Mundaka Upanishad verses particularly inspired Green, which advises those seeking enlightenment to approach a guru with wood on his or her head. Although Mundaka is literally translated to “shaved head, or a shorn, lopped trunk of a tree,” placing wood on one’s head, of course, is symbolic, representing fuel for an open mind. In Walking the Walk, Green has created poetic translations of this beautiful commandment through physical forms that are impossible to forget.
From the moment I was in the presence of Green’s wearable interpretations of this spiritual edict, I lusted for one of my own. A hat, a hood, and a cape, each vertically affixed with sticks, branches, and twigs, reach towards the heavens in search of higher awareness and wisdom.
Yet, these garments did not strike me as embodying the serenity associated with Hinduism; they seemed somehow sinister, defensive – as if warding off evil spirits simultaneously in their pursuit of higher knowledge and peace. This juxtaposition of content and form completely transfixed me, as paradoxes often do…
I eventually peeled myself away from Green’s metaphorical garments to focus on her fantastic mobile structures. Each structure seeks to serve the same metaphor as the garments, but in the most playful way. These personalized, novel structures are measured to the artist’s body, designed to be inhabited by Green during her path to enlightenment.
Of course, each structure is topped with a stack of wood – but all is not as it appears. Indeed, some of these piles of “fuel for enlightenment” are made of wood, but others are made of cloth, stoneware, or porcelain.
And, although seekers of enlightenment are encouraged to shed their worldly goods, Green, forever an object maker, attached little bags to each structure so that she might hold onto a few precious possessions during her “walk”. These encompassing oddities, while impractical, offer an appealing illusion of privacy, encouraging divine focus in an earthly world filled with distraction.
Walking the Walk at LAM Gallery is made of equal parts ingenuity, universality, and whimsy. But, it is missing its keystone. The essential, absent artwork in Walking the Walk will be exhibited on May 24, in a concurrent exhibition at the Craft & Folk Art Museum, Fall 12: An Autobiography Considering Charles Ray’s “Fall 91”.
In this museum exhibition, Green appropriates American sculptor Charles Ray’s iconic Amazonian mannequin of the working woman, Fall ’91, by replacing the head with a scaled-up likeness of her own face. She also includes a bright orange silk sari that invokes the tenants of Hinduism, and has been worn by Indian women for centuries. I suggest you visit Walk the Walk after the 23rd, when a live feed from the museum will be visible on a monitor at LAM Gallery, so that you might enjoy the complete experience of Phyllis Green’s unique path to enlightenment.