Anyone who’s been on the fourth floor of the Whitney Biennial will have seen Sheila Hicks’s “Pillar of Inquiry/Supple Column.” The massive work made from a yarn-like material, is situated pretty much in the center for the exhibition and streams down from ceiling to floor. It is surrounded by many similarly over-sized works.
What’s not evident in this clunky piece is the heavy manipulation of materials Hicks is famous for; the yarn-like material does not look well-manicured, and whatever weaving has taken place is invisible. Instead, we’re offered a heavy mess of rainbow colors that would have been better served hung in Bjarne Melgaard’s living room installation of terrible human deeds. At least then, visitors could hang out in the cords.
It’s not a good piece, but like many artists on view at the Biennial, there’s more places to get to know the work than just the museum and it’s good to seek them out because the work is often better. In this case, viewers don’t have to go far; the artist currently has a small solo in Cheslea at Sikkema Jenkins titled simply, “Sheila Hicks”.
The gallery dedicates the bulk of the front room to a wall with hand-bound found objects that resemble yarn balls tacked to the wall. From afar, it looks like what a “gallery filter” on Instagram could do to a shot of outer space. It’s a constellation of balls of different sizes and colors that look like stars shining in the white sky. Up close you can see Hicks phenomenal color sense at work; the balls are made with several different colors that vibrate when juxtaposed next to one another.
Unlike “Inquiry/Supple Column,” the piece succeeds on both a micro and macro level. Arguably, though, it’s not the best work in the show. For that, head into the back room, where amidst the framed woven pieces hangs a surface made of pinkish linen twisted so tightly it could be mistaken for braids. Titled “Araucario,” this work takes on a silver sheen under the lights of the gallery. Between the braids, Hicks has affixed long brown pine cones.
The effect is a pleasurable for texture alone. The gritty open cones stand in contrast to the soft but tightly bound fabric. Looking at this work is a joy.
And mercifully, it’s a solo show, so Hicks work is all a viewer needs to think about. No noise. No super-sized work. Just a few skillfully woven pieces in fabric.