9769 Radio Drive, The Contemporary Museum, Honolulu, Hawaii
The Contemporary Museum Hawaii
2411 Makiki Heights Drive, Honolulu, HI 96822
January 28 – May 8, 2011
Curator: Jay Jensen
Think “box” and what comes to mind might be Joseph Cornell’s lyrical mise-en-scène, Donald Judd’s obdurate rows or stacks, or a singular work like Eva Hesse’s Accession II—its lush austerity signaling, among other things, a finely-tuned balance between industrial materials and closely focused hand-labor. The work of Steven and William Ladd, New York-based brothers and creative partners, is part of that diverse lineage, in which the container and the contained, form and content, are intimately fused.
Steven and William Ladd: 9769 Radio Drive, the first museum exhibition of the Ladds’ work, is the product of an intense fraternal symbiosis, coming at art-making sideways (via the world of costume design, fashion shows and one-of-a-kind luxury accessories) and bringing to it an eclectic approach to material and process, much of it fiber- and textile-based. In their current division of labor Steven constructs the ultrasuede-covered boxes that serve to house individual vignettes, while William pursues his passion for beadwork in various forms; they work collaboratively in finishing works that are best characterized as possessed of a sense of exquisite excess.
They do not appear that way at first, however. The boxes, closed, may rest in a single tower, a tightly grouped cluster, or a set of stacks, their fabric covers offering the barest hint of tactile experience; handsewn seams, the gentlest suggestion of the labor-intensive nature of their fabrication. On display, as they are in the exhibition, the boxes have been opened, with each cover, with an inner lip, serving as a small pedestal for the section it enclosed. Unstacked, unpacked, each box becomes part of a horizontal field or grid of exuberant detail. The triptych comprised of Stairway to Heaven, Stack Infection and Ant Infestation, each a 4 x 6 grid of units, introduces the Ladds’ visual language and several thematic strands. In the first, each box contains two side-by-side spaces, like absent coffins, embedded in a surround of tangled threads and old buttons. In the second, hinged lids covered with several layers of frayed rectangular swatches open to reveal circular wound-like cavities bristling with rows of long pins on each of which are strung several beads. In the third, the units are arrayed to create a landscape of beaded trees overrun with miniature, metal ants. Throughout the exhibition, those ants reappear in various contexts—in drawings, and in printed pages from a series of boxed portfolios that are deployed to line one entire gallery. The ants, like many references that are autobiographical in origin, also invoke a communal productivity.
A second series of tower/landscapes, identified with the brothers’ parents (Mom and Dad) and grandparents (Gma, Gma2, Gpa and Gpa2), engages a different set of materials—findings such as buckles, grommets and other embellishments from a former belt and buckle factory. The Ladds have made the most of this cache, meditatively sorting by kind, and filling boxes like small treasure chests, which indeed is what familial connections and memories often are. What the Ladds bring to their work is a distinctive spirit of poignant play.