In her landmark 1966 exhibition Eccentric Abstraction, Lucy Lippard brought together the work of Alice Adams, Eva Hesse, Louise Bourgeois, and others in a show that, in her words, was “devoted to opening up new areas of materials, shape, color, and sensuous experience.”
Reportedly first used by John Milton in 1641, the word sensuous was conceived to indicate a total engagement of the senses without the licentious undertones of “sensual.” Nearly 200 years later, sensuous found an advocate in Romantic poet Samuel Coleridge who argued for its utility in an essay penned in 1814: “Thus, to express in one word what belongs to the senses, or the recipient and more passive faculty of the soul, I have reintroduced the word sensuous, used, among many others of our elder writers, by Milton.”
What Coleridge would call “the recipient and more passive faculty of the soul,” Lippard would call body ego. She writes, “It is difficult to explain why certain forms and treatments of form should elicit more sensuous response than others. Sometimes it is determined by the artist’s own approach to his materials and forms; at others by the viewer’s indirect sensations of identification, reflecting both his personal and vicarious knowledge of sensorial experience in general. Body ego can be experienced two ways: first through appeal, the desire to caress, to be caught up in the feel and rhythms of a work; second, through repulsion, the immediate reaction against certain forms and surfaces which take longer to comprehend.”
The works assembled here incite this “desire to caress, to be caught up in the feel and rhythms of a work.” The acrylic stain in Simone Meltesen’s “Untitled (Tablecloth)” invokes the physical sensation of wet gingham fabric; Kurt Treeby’s “Disposable: Niagara Falls Winter Garden” also employs a pink grid, but in the form of a demolished landmark, which doubles as a tissue box holder that invites the viewer to grab and pull; “Ancestral Swamp,” painted by Nikholis Planck, urges one to plunge a hand or nose right into its sticky humid jumble; August Krogan-Roley’s carpet collage “by the rivers of” summons the feeling of the rough warp and weft of mass-produced carpet; even though constructed with concrete, Nicole Langille’s “pocket with pink and purple” tempts one to reach for a hidden interior; in “Lot's Daughters” Whitney Lynn has reimagined the Biblical tale and made it cruder with the use of thickly applied oil pastel and the implication of incestual cradling; Garth Swanson’s unstretched and hand woven canvas in “Courtyard” takes on the quality of a well worn garment; “Character of Color Phenomena (vessel),” made by Sarah Zapata, beckons the viewer to run a hand along the repeated ridges of its coiled rope; the candy apple reds in Nancy White’s acrylic on paper piece “01_2016” suggest the taste of a sticky treat; and Erin Castellan’s “Peggy Myrtle” entices one to touch its bumpy beaded surface.