Home > Article > Houston Artletter > Emily Sloan: SOS at Lawndale


Emily Sloan's SOS is four sculptures and four drawings cobbled together into an installation. It's jumbled and incoherent, but I don't think it's terminal.  The contrast between Sloan's overly careful concept drawings and her unresolved sculptures suggests inexperience.  Perhaps through lack of studio space, tools or time, Sloan is more at home thinking about her sculptures than working them out in reality. She scrambles to fill the wall space, resorting to weak concept sketches and felt bricks that are empty placeholders.

Her best piece is Message in a Bottle Chandelier, a pleasantly junky contraption. Racks of colored wine bottles hold obsolete cell phones and winking LED's, a nifty contemporary twist on an old metaphor. At intervals, the piece emits Morse code beeps in the SOS pattern, as if the piece was a blinking, beeping buoy.  

Sloan's other pieces suffer from lack of craft control: her SOS rug, made of unburnt matches, is too tidy. Neat rows make it more about stitchery than salvation. Conversely, her Hearth with Morse Code Brick Patterns and Smoke Signals is overwhelmed by technical glitches: the steel wool smoke is too thin and clings to the wall like beard stubble, the ripples of a dim, greenish video projection fail to animate it, and end up underscoring it's meagerness. In the fireplace itself, the piece's cramped, unrealistic proportions undermine Sloan's very effective use of carpet padding to simulate bricks, stone, and logs. Likewise the upholstery in Sloan's Speech Bubble Loveseat is only good enough to make its awkwardness grating. The text on the loveseat is desperately desperate: "Save our sanity!!!" "Save our ship!!!" "Save out Secrets!!!" Save our seat!!!"

In the preparatory sketch for this piece the text on the bench reads  "dah . . dah . . dah . ."
Somewhere along the road from drawing to sculpture, Sloan created these SOS phrases, but Neither the "Peanuts" typeface or the army of exclamation points can cover the impression that Sloan's still got nothing to say. The drawings are dismissible: honest concept sketches clogged with the atmosphere of life drawing class, better left buried in the sketchbook than on the walls. 

Here's another of those situations that, as a blogger, I get into frequently.  Here I am writing about a show that normally wouldn't get any mention, and is perhaps better left alone. It's not good, but it's a good try, and if Sloan is a young artist, that's OK. If this show was in Sloan's studio, it would be promising, but here it is at Lawndale for any unsympathetic reviewer to pick apart. So what do I do? Do I patronize her by saying, "it's a good try, kid. Better luck next time," or do I presume Sloan has more experience than her work shows, and give it both barrels, as if she was Robert Rauschenberg?

also by Bill Davenport
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5 Responses

  1. b.s.

    bust her up! there’s no reason not to be critical. if we all don’t want to hurt people’s feelings then no one will ever get the thick skin they need to really get anywhere good. don’t you want more good art Bill?

  2. jvhovig

    Lawndale is an incubator, it’s not MoMA or the Menil, but Sean makes a good point. Houston art won’t reach its highest potential unless we take every show and every gallery seriously. I don’t know what else you need to say after “it doesn’t work,” since that’s pretty much already the worst thing you can say to an artist, but you explained yourself thoughtfully, which makes the review useful in any event.

    If Houston suffered from an embarrassment of riches, we could understand if you only reviewed good-quality or high-profile shows, but we’re not close, so do whatever you think shines the brightest light on the Houston scene, including as many that “normally wouldn’t get any mention” as you can.

    BTW did you check her CV to see what kind of experience she had? I think Lawndale usually displays the artists’ CV’s on their little side table near the “front” door. You can use as much firepower as you think her CV merits.

  3. festoonedbaboon

    Keep it coming, Bill. In the interest of disclosure, I confess that I overreacted to a piece of critizicm from you. Sorry, no hard feelings. It was certainly better than hearing a lone cricket in the night. I think it is helpful to illuminate the misfire or unintended distraction, eventhough it might sting. That’s just pride. Sometimes there is a person in the world who is trying to make lead into gold, but isn’t using the right formula. That is what we’re doing: making something from nothing, unless you have the luxury to have access to diamonds and platinum. Then, you are making something into something, which isn’t quite as interesting. There is no virtuoso visual artist. We have to fail repeatedly. That is how it works. The struggle seems to be the point of it all. The hardest part about it is the lack of information from the outside. It is like being on a frontier journey without a map. Some times you discover something, but usually you finnish with a shrunken head.

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