On view through April 20
City Gallery at Waterfront Park
34 Prioleau St.
One simple visit to the City Gallery and I turned into a basket case.
No, I didn’t leap into the Cooper River. Instead, I contemplated the empowering buzz of Translations, Gena Grant’s solo exhibition, which uses disassembled baskets to express an artistic vision that rejoices in triumph over adversity.
Grant’s work is categorized by three series: “The Spire Series,” “The Dancing Series,” and “The Pizza Box Series.” The work is the result of an artist re-purposing pedestrian objects usually discarded; it also articulates Grant’s personal challenges, dedication, and innovation.
Art’s conceptual genealogy lies in change. A painter applies color to a blank canvas. A poet registers emotions with words. A sculptor manipulates objects so they are rendered new.
The sculptures in “Spire” have an alternative approach to the traditional woven basket. Grant pulled apart the wicker, injected thread, wire, and glue — and fashioned pieces as electrical conduits aimed at the sky.
One point in the past may have found the baskets hauling fruit or fabric. Now they are upright stalks that carry Grant’s creativity. Overall, the pieces are grounded, of the earth, even as they ascend. As you move among the gallery’s white walls, they gain a liveliness that evokes a forest’s vertiginous reach.
Out of reach, and more atmospheric, is “The Pizza Box Series.” Grant has explained that these pieces are the result of the video-and-pizza nights she spends with her daughter. Look closely and detect the Roma Pizza logo still brandished on the improvised canvases. Step back and absorb the deep-space colors, the comet-swirls, and star-splatters of paint. Conjure the image of Grant and her daughter watching movies and eating pizza.
Mother and daughter illustrate a particular innocence and exploration inherent in each of these 13 paintings, which in turn have a chilly, playful manner that at once comforts and threatens the viewer.
The cosmic vibes developed in “Pizza Box” burst as you head to the second floor for “Dance Series.” Essentially, the same principles are used here as in “Spire.” But these sculptures dip, bend, spin, and jive. They are caught in motion. They are rough, turbulent, and brightly colored. Seductive and flirty, they are everywhere you look. The second floor becomes a dance hall that stretches to the other side of the gallery, where more sculptures await.
I would have been pleased with pizza boxes and baskets, but a handful of paintings are included here as well. They show tribal members in various stages of ritual dance. They have the stamp of a talented craftsman. They do not, however, enhance the aesthetic of “Dancing” as a whole.
The paintings quietly disrupt what everything else has stridently declared: Symbolic interpretation trumps specific depictions. The series’ strength is comprehensive and malleable sculpture, not paintings that struggle for attention.
Grant has explained much of the inspiration for Translations arrived under adverse personal circumstances. Rather than become a basket case herself, she disassembled and recreated her struggles into a wellspring of engaging art.