Recommended Show: Judith Scott at the Brooklyn Museum

by Whitney Kimball on December 10, 2014 Reviews

judith scott

Judith Scott, “Untitled,” 2004. Photo courtesy of the Brooklyn Museum.

Judith Scott: Bound and Unbound
The Brooklyn Museum
Runs through March 29, 2015

I hate seeing Judith Scott’s sculpture at art fairs. Even with the knowledge that the sales typically go to a good cause, seeing the work of a woman who was deaf, mute, and diagnosed with Down Syndrome next to art fair readymades by arts “professionals” feels nauseatingly greasy. This is to say that Scott’s sculptures touch me deeply in a way that art rarely does in a gallery. They have no place in the wall furnishings department of the New York rich.

The artist’s story is bleak; as a young child, Scott was separated from her twin sister Joyce and was sent to live in a mental institution, where she remained away from her family. In the late eighties, after 35 years of solitude, Joyce finally sought out her sister, who then took over as Judith’s legal guardian. Judith was soon enrolled in the Creative Growth Art Center for the disabled, where she was exposed to fiber arts sculpture.

As Judith was unable to speak, we are left to imagine what happened in those lost decades, most of her adult life. Nobody will ever know, just as nobody will ever fully understand the thinking behind her wrapped bundle-sculptures, now on view in her posthumous retrospective at the Brooklyn Museum. The sculptures remain basically the same over the years: Scott wrapped yarn and strips of cloth into roughly human-sized cocoons, with surprisingly complex webbing and harmonious color palette. By any standards, these works show an impressively fine-tuned visual sensibility. Varyingly, Scott incorporated objects like talismanic sticks, plastic tubing, jeans, a chair, beads, a shopping cart with front wheels removed. In one instance, in absence of fibers, Scott used toilet paper from the bathroom to make a large ball of knotted papers. One image shows Scott hugging one of her sculptures, as though it were family.

Free from the burdens of art history and its criticisms, the sculptures show at a base level what artmaking fills for a person. What’s life like without irony or calculation? For an art critic, that’s a mystery, one that makes this body of work a crucial point of reference.


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