Herron School of Art and Design
Through Oct. 15
When is a work belt not a work belt? When it’s a sculpture by Diane Simpson. Same can be said for a bib, an apron, a robe, a vest, a hat and various other articles of clothing or adornment. Simpson’s meticulously articulate re-imaginings of these things, first drawn up in precise architectural-type renderings, are realized almost as scale models of buildings, but they’re manifestations of what they represent, with the object’s soul reconfigured as its design and utilitarian essence. On view at Herron School of Art and Design, Simpson’s exhibition of sculpture and drawings makes sense in this voluminous space. The white walls and polished floors gleam with the precise sculptures and drawings, at once serious and whimsical.
From one of her earliest pieces, “Robe” (1987, made from a wood-based material called MDF), an imposing structure of robeness that flows, somehow, despite its stiff materials and clean-cut outlines, to her latest expressions, such as “Bib” (2006, in brass), resembling chain mail, Simpson’s designs take turns between simplicity and complexity. If there’s a trajectory here, it’s not so much as an expansion of what inspires her, but unique versions of it: new types of clothing, for example, but still clothing.
Certainly, there’s a playfulness underlying the formality of her spare forms. “Robe,” for instance, mimics the shape of a woman’s figure, suggesting a flourish, even, tricking the eye into believing the sculpture is not static, achieved through a forward tilt. This and many of her other sculptures are fabricated as if they were partially flattened to suggest a hovering between two and three dimensions — a metaphor, perhaps, for the meaning we invest in things. They are functional and utilitarian, they are beautiful and they are also evocative — of both warmth and sterility. But in this case they are to be seen rather than felt.
In later works such as the towering “Apron X” (2005, in aluminum and leather), a butcher or jailer comes to mind. Certainly, this piece of apparel is not fit — nor intended — for human wear; it is more like a well-designed and darkly imagined prison for the body. On the other hand, one imagines the Chrysler Building in New York: There’s an Art Deco softness to the leather even as the overall affect of the aluminum is one of distance.
Simpson calls her work “a distilled interpretation of the original source: a hybrid form subliminally informed by many other sources.” Of course, what we make of all of this is largely up to us. As she puts it, hers is a synthesis of “industrial/architectonic and domestic worlds,” achieved through careful manipulation of form and a meticulous bonding of materials with power tools and needle and thread.
Diane Simpson: Sculpture + Drawings is on view at Herron School of Art and Design, 735 W. New York St., in the Eleanor Prest Reese and Robert B. Berkshire Galleries, through Oct. 15. Call 317-278-9418 for information.