Common materials, uncommon vision

Miles Neidinger's Ice City Arts installation finds wisdom in waste.

By Tanya Hartman, for The Kansas City Star

Published 1/16/2014

Everything that makes a drawing come alive can be found in three dimensions in Miles Neidinger's sensational installation "The Anatomy of the Palace of Wisdom" on display at City Ice Arts. The unmitigated energy of gesture, the fast static of scribble, the clarity of the precise mark as well as radical changes in scale, linear mass, velocity and volume come together in a work that is simultaneously fierce, intelligent, poignant and open to interpretation.

Ironically, Neidinger's drawings, six of which are on view, are less daring and more predictable, lacking the raw beauty of the three-dimensional work.

The name of the exhibition is also the title of the main installation. It was built on-site between mid-December and early January, constructed from stir straws, aluminum tape, copper wire and unperforated twist ties.

The first glimpse of the work is breathtaking: an organized, undulating, energetic compilation of dispensable elements lashed together to create a cohesive work evocative of all that cannot be easily named or quantified in language.

The installation is structurally solid, despite having been fashioned from what is essentially junk. This seems a powerful metaphor for the human predicament: from the expendable we must create something of value, stability and mystery - a palace of wisdom that becomes our life.

In his artist's statement, Neidinger quotes from William Blake's 1790 poem "The Marriage of Heaven and Hell": "the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom, " meaning that activities in which we overindulge ultimately teach us about our own true nature and lead to insight and prudence.

The artist "criticizes excess by being excessive" while also drawing upon memories of tearing down a childhood home and seeing its "raw studs, plumbing pipes and electrical wiring."

Though interesting starting points, these ideas seem more creative catalysts than conceptual destinations. This is a true work of art in that it defies literal meanings, asserting itself as inscrutable force field. It is a sculpture that is never static, constructed with incredible delicacy from myriad plastic and wire elements. The energy of the piece does not ever become "busy" and is grounded by a simple white base that acts as a flat stage upon which the visual elements are offset.

Neidinger is also able to make the synthetic colors of his cheap materials, such as the acidic yellow of drinking straws, shiny sienna of copper wire and metallic sheen of aluminum tape, look organic and appealing, tropical and seductive. Tara Donovan, Sarah Sze, Judy Pfaff and even Cy Twombly are conjured in this work without it ever becoming derivative or less than unique to itself.

Neidinger's drawings are displayed on walls that ring the central installation, as well as in the gallery's entryway, but they seem trendy in their fusion of the naïve with the obsessive and hence do not transcend their maker in the way of the installation, which appears to be an act of nature more than a work constructed by a human hand.

It would be wonderful to see this intelligent artist create drawings that were as fresh and unalloyed as the installed work.

"Ideational" (2014) is a wall installation at the front of the gallery incorporating hair tinsel, glitter and packing tape. The artist made what appear to be small blister packs, layering strings of tinsel with glitter between layers of tape, cutting the resulting images into shaped tesserae and placing them on the wall.

Each acts as a small cell of thoughtful composition and each is beautiful. And again, the artist has juxtaposed color in a way that allows it to transcend its tackiness to become strangely animate and of nature.

Each small component of this synthetic mosaic is worth lingering over, tiny worlds of concentrated visual intensity. One caveat is that with such strange and original building blocks, the fact that they are arranged on the wall to form a perfect circle is a less imaginative

arrangement than how they could be composed in the future. Similarly, the little cells cluster at circle's center and then spray open as the diameter increases - a predictable constellation.

However, in aggregate, this is a show with moments of awe-inspiring originality and acumen.