Jessica Jackson Hutchins' Stylite Optimism is not an easy show to love. At a glance these ceramic sculptures look like a cracked cup here and a lumpy form there. But after spending time with this collection of recent works, I came away stimulated and even moved, mulling over not only questions of how we evaluate art and measure beauty, but thinking of how these same values extend into our "real" lives.
Hutchins' sculptures traffic in abjection—several have cracked in the kiln, exposing their unsightly wire skeletons. Others combine the matte hues of dried blood with fluorescent green spray paint and papier mâché. But they never wallow in the once-popular, self-deprecating, "I'm such a knowingly lousy artist that I can't even make a decent piece of artwork" attitude. Instead, Hutchins brings each object to completion as most artists would with a "satisfactory" piece, and in doing so, suggests that we reconsider how we might love objects that are less beautiful than their shinier competitors, and at what point we embrace or abandon imperfection.
"Earth Fragment" has the sloppy topography of a collapsed pie. But then one notices countless layers of attention and color that make up its surface, suggesting rust, burnt embers, and the faint green from an old lady's china set. Does the title and form suggest a small rock stumbled upon during a hike through Forest Park, or a monumental cliff rushing toward the ocean? Don't each of these share the same unpolished veneer as "Earth Fragment"? Why would we love that clumsy rock less than a river-smoothed boulder?
Hutchins' humor is more evident in pieces like "French Bread Pizza Coffin on a Fence." A small flat-black picket fence supports a Stouffer's pizza-shaped tomb with a resigned gravitas. But it's not all morbid death—even for a microwave snack—as a tiny cutout of yellow flowers are collaged to the fence below, hope springing eternal.
Every piece in Stylite Optimism worked for me on this level—once I opened up to their imperfections, they floored me with their honesty and intelligence. Hutchins' sculptures are fascinating objects of beauty, but only for those willing to embrace the cracks in their surface.