Art in America review

Brent Green at Andrew Edlin Gallery
Leah Ollman
Art in America, October 2010

The short video projected at the entrance to this affecting show was made as a trailer for Brent Green’s first feature-length animated film, Gravity Was Everywhere Back Then (2010), which debuted theatrically during the show’s run. It served also as a fine teaser to what lay beyond in the gallery—three more short, stop-motion films and a fragment of a hand-built house. In the trailer, Green introduces the true story of Leonard Wood, a Kentucky man whose wife, Mary, was diagnosed with cancer. Leonard embarks on a mission to build and rebuild their home into “a sort of healing machine that would save her life.” Mary dies, but Leonard keeps on building until he falls off the roof and has to sell the house to pay his nursing home bills.

Green narrates the tale in a voice tremulous with urgency. Wood’s enterprise was a matter of faith and will, devotion and love, and Green seems to feel much the same. He keeps the boundary between physical reality and emotional truth fluid, and the constellation of work that results exudes authenticity and a raw, visceral power. Green reconstructed the Woods’ now-demolished home on his Pennsylvania farm, complete with a circular, open-framed laundry tower stretching to a height of 23 feet and a bathroom compressed to 5 feet tall, with steam from the tub intended to heat the bedroom floor close overhead. Actors playing Leonard and Mary occupy the house in Green’s compelling, rough-hewn film clips, and visitors to the show meandered through the dimly lit rooms of the house, reassembled to fit snugly into the gallery.

The installation charms with its weathered wood surfaces, odd angles and quirky, hand-carved furnishings: kitchen cabinets inscribed with an ode to wonder; an upright piano topped by a pair of old phonograph horns (which, on film, emit curlicues of visible sound); a chair whose back loops up and around to hold a single lightbulb over its occupant. A stairway winds a tight spiral from one room to another, and windows have slipped out of alignment. The environment seems to have momentum of its own; it feels charged with hope.

Another short film that played against the gallery’s back wall mixed hand-drawn elements with footage of the “Leonard” building, while Green, the narrator, muses on the biblical story of Noah. Green marvels at Noah’s effort in gathering and planning all that wood for his ark and concludes that work itself is the point—what matters is to individually build toward something. In the telling, Noah’s epic story becomes Leonard’s, and Leonard’s becomes the artist’s: through the work of the hand comes redemption, salvation, rapture.

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