Visual art review: Havel fascinates with simple items | St. Louis Public Radio

Visual art review: Havel fascinates with simple items

Jun 2, 2008

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon: June 2, 2008 - Thank god for artists like Joseph Havel, who make fascinating objects out of the simplest stuff and leave plenty of room for humor.

Credit Courtesy of the gallery | St. Louis Beacon archives

This small show at William Shearburn of Havel's recent works concentrates on two series: hanging bed sheets and Plexiglas boxes of shirt labels. The three bed sheet sculptures are cast bronze with rich, blackish patinas. They hang by invisible threads from the ceiling and are reminiscent of shrouds, though one of them is oddly twisted at the bottom, looking like bed sheets do after rough, sweaty, sleepless nights.

The shirt label pieces are crisp and dapper by comparison. Havel packs thousands of them into plexi boxes so that they mimic those minimalist striped paintings by Frank Stella. But the labels won't hold their form, and some of the stripes degenerate into squiggles.

It's clearly all in good fun: the labels sport words like "nothin" and "Forget/Havel" and these pieces read like a playful homage to Stella, whose famous dictum "What you see is what you see" seems particularly apropos in this context.

Other label pieces, like "Tell it to the forest fire," are in larger plexi boxes, and are more colorful by comparison. But they don't pack the same punch as the Stella series. Indeed, Havel seems to be most effective when mucking about in minimalist territory, sending it up with his unexpectedly intimate materials and clever wordplay.

Visually, his works are on a par with many second-generation minimalist-conceptualist-process artists -- think Rachel Whiteread or Roni Horn -- but Havel's tongue is more firmly placed in his cheek.

This little show is well worth seeing, a good introduction to Havel's work for the uninitiated, or a reaffirmation of his singular talent for those in the know.

Ivy Cooper is an artist and professor of art history at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.