Nancy Shaver at Feature Inc.

Nancy Shaver, Yellow and Black Horizontals and Red and Green Verticals (2002), wooden boxes, plastic blocks, flashe, acrylic and house paint; courtesy Feature Inc.

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Shuffling through my clippings recently, I noticed that each time I reviewed an exhibition at Feature Inc., I couldn’t resist taking a potshot at the gallery’s aesthetic. One of Feature’s current exhibitions, a sampling of wall sculptures by Nancy Shaver, has me broadening my target.

Ms. Shaver’s pieces suffer from an affliction common to a lot of contemporary art: a lack of range. Much like Saul Steinberg’s famous cartoon of Manhattan as the center of the universe, the boundaries of the art scene are those which too many artists consider the end-all and be-all of life as it is lived. Ms. Shaver’s works are similarly inbred. They’re incredibly schooled, fashionably unkempt and just short of trivial.

Did I mention that I like them?

Ms. Shaver’s wall pieces are “compounds” of old fruit boxes augmented by rickety geometry or scribble-scrabble patterning. Shaking and baking a diversity of influences–to name a few, Ellsworth Kelly, Donald Judd, Joseph Cornell, Eva Hesse and folk art–she imbues them with an ambiance that is this side of pathetic and that side of cool.

Ms. Shaver trades in pastiche, yet the resulting work is so dry, humble and appealingly handmade that the appellation “pastiche” seems not only unjust, but unkind. Its quiet verve resides in the artist’s insistence on the “something/nothing contradiction”–the frisson, that is, between found objects and sharp accents, bright colors and worn surfaces, high concept and low budget. The sculptures have the impudence of the recently minted M.F.A. They also signal an artist capable of getting down to business. Less time cruising the streets of Chelsea and more time out in the world (and in the studio) ought to do the trick.

© 2002 Mario Naves

This article originally appeared in the February 4, 2002 edition of The New York Observer.

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