Glass Intrusions: Rob Wynne at the Brooklyn Museum

Pools of shimmering silver, flies alighted on walls, golden snakes slithering through museum cases: Rob Wynne’s ethereal work makes a point of being impossible to pin down. His exhibition, Float, is placed as a critical counterpoint to objects on permanent display in the Brooklyn Museum’s fifth floorAmerican galleries. Wynne’s pieces interact well with their surroundings but would resonate on their own, thus making this a strong exhibition on many levels. The intellectual agility of the poured glass wall installations offers at times biting critique of the stodgy portraits and history paintings of the new American republic with their traditional European aspirations, but Wynne’s glass intrusions can by turns be tender and empathetic as well.
Wynne’s aesthetic embraces excess and is pervaded by prismatic, lustrous, and glittering qualities. But beyond any merely decorative bent, his work can plumb depths of his chosen material’s crystalline or chemical structure, hinting at infinite possibilities and interpretations. The purity of glass represents a physical and philosophical stubbornness that makes it both an overwhelming and reliable reference point.  This is particularly the case in the opening piece, Extra Life (2018), a swirling diaphanous galaxy of flickering globules that inhabits the back wall of the elevator lobby. Four white marble neoclassical mythological nymphs – lackluster to my eye – by American 19th-century sculptors masters Chauncey Bradley Ives, Randolph Rodgers,  and Frederick William MacMonnies are caught up in this abstract gesture of universality and motion—Wynne’s (in this case wordless) invocation to wake up seems to be heeded by the carved lasses, and the compositional interaction between the pure dull sheen of the white marble reacting with the silver of the mirrored particles on the wall and the room itself begins to move.
Wynne’s first decisive intervention in the collections is a small Snake (2011) inserted a case of Meso-American antiquities. That this diamond-patterned snake caught in a stylized slither is a wearable gold brooch serves metaphorically to clasp the before and after of American civilization playfully associates the mythological origins and similarities of all culturespre-Columbian and European invader alike. Wynne’s simple gesture is a nuanced commentary on the collection. Recognizing that a seemingly academic museum case full of ceramic in figures and bowls also has the potential for drama and narrative, Wynne’s snake determinedly undulates in one direction right at the back heel of a clay Ecuadorian jaguar vessel, approximately 1400-1700 years its senior, cheekily marching opposite direction,
All of the rest of Wynne’s intrusions, save one, consist of assemblages of lugubrious flat mirrored shapes applied to the walls, many of them passages of text. These are located near sculptures, paintings and objects of furniture which engage the text, either by a reference to the work itself, it’s subject, or a salient characteristic. In I Saw Myself See Myself (2018) a double-sided statement in mirrored glass which plays on Beatrice Wood’s “I Shock Myself,” Wynne presents a tautology which suggests the self-perception necessary in order to create an autobiography therefore acknowledges an inherent narcissism as well. The mirrored words float bluntly on the wall over a pithy 1934 Art Deco vanity and accompanying seat by Kem Weber, a furniture arrangement centering on self-observation and self-beautification completes Wynne’s thought process. On the other side of this room, the cast aluminum larger-than-life Fly (2008) plays the part of gossip, the nemesis of the previously mentioned idea of autobiography. Captured in the halo of a bright spotlight, the literal fly-on-the-wall gazes down on William Glackens’ erotically charged Girl with Apple (1909-1910) and John Sloane’s painting The Haymarket (1907). Sloane scandalously depicts  unaccompanied women entering a dance hall at the turn of the century.
February 22, 2019
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