In a new exhibition titled “The Soft Embrace,” sculptor Lesley Bodzy voices the pressures women face and how they might be overcome through gestures. The titular artwork is just that, an embrace. Expanding the medium of painting, it is a golden “paint skin” held up with a backing to maintain its shape of folds and curves.
Women are often made to feel uncomfortable in their skin. Think of how female celebrities are scrutinized for their weight — either too skinny or too voluptuous. In 2006, after breaking off her engagement, Nicole Richie started dating Steve-O, in what they now have revealed as a PR stunt, to, in his words, “get some media coverage that wasn’t about her being skinny.” (Thanks Steve-O for being an ally!).
With its gold sheen, Bodzy’s Embrace and the other paint skin on view in the exhibition both exude brilliance and, thanks to their drape-like figure, allude to something hiding beneath. As a thought exercise, keeping with the theme of femininity, I imagine that whatever lies beneath the golden surface is equally impressive.
The press release states, “The delicate yet resistant surfaces of With Every Single Breath, create new and unpredictable associations and challenge our assumptions around vulnerability, restraint, and strength.” This group of nine 3D-printed exhibited in a grid are like small sighs of relief. With every single breath, we are seen, but we can also let go.
Multiple series from 2020-2023 in various materials such as acrylic, cast-resin and bronze, plastic, and velvet are on view in the exhibition. In addition to this retrospective of sorts, Bodzy is also on view in “Currents,” a group exhibition at Morris Adjmi Architects (MA).
Architecture with a twist, Morris Adjmi executed the Scholastic Building, a design by his mentor, Italian architect Aldo Rossi. While the design of its facade follows some of the forms of its 19th cast-iron building neighbors, its materials — steel, terra-cotta, stone, and glass — and its red friezes with interlocking white columns have developed the classical language in a decidedly bold and experimental fashion. Many other of the firm’s projects employ innovative techniques to create texture and striking visuals that dialogue with historical precedents.
The firm’s recently finalized project, Grand Mulberry, for example, innovates the eponymous New York brick facade by using custom “domed” bricks laid out in patterns that mimic windows and friezes, irregular to the placement of the windows. Playing with decorative maximalism, the building’s appearance changes throughout the day as the sun moves, making its shadows shift. The building will house the new Italian-American Museum.
For her attempts to innovate painting, it is fitting that Bodzy is exhibiting within the firm’s art program. She is showing two of her Dialogue works. They are malleable, with one side being an acrylic paint skin and the other velvet. One is folded wavy like an oyster shell, while the other undulates.
At MA, Bodzy’s work is on view alongside several other artists, but I want to mention two especially that also expand the field of painting: Chellis Baird, whose tightly bound textile works on wood structures in parts deconstruct the painting itself — canvas, brushstroke, and wood stretcher and, Matthias Van Arkel, whose work is part of the firm’s permanent collection. He does not paint per se but instead uses strips colored of silicone piled horizontally to achieve a sculptural painting that hangs on the wall. These artists all cross material boundaries beyond paint and have recently moved into metals as both Baird and Van Arkel have recently cast their sculptural works in aluminum and bronze, while Bodzy worked with cast-bronze in her Relic series.
With the might and vision of an architectural firm, material development can take larger proportions. MA has commissioned Van Arkel to create a facade for a building on Broadway. Using the same foundry as Jeff Koons’ uses, MA had one of Van Arkel’s works cast and multiplied, which will case the facade for one of their new buildings on Broadway.
At #704, during a talk between Bodzy and the curator of “The Soft Embrace,” Anna Stothart, formerly the Brown Foundation Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art at the San Antonio Museum of Art, Bodzy revealed more about her process. Physical and manual in nature, she spoke about trial and error in mixing acrylic paints to achieve durability and texture in her ‘skins.’ This journey, one that she enjoys, to mix materials is something she discusses in an interview. Rules are not made to be broken in Bodzy’s work. There simply are no rules.
Some artists, like Bodzy, are as much engineers and inventors as they are creatives, while some architects, like Morris Adjmi, are as much artists as they are engineers.
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Alexandra Israel is a contributor to Grit Daily, a freelance arts writer and publicist. A museum aficionado since her introduction to Jean Dominque Ingres’ portraits as a small child, she enjoys spending her free time at museums and finding off-the-beaten-track gallery shows. She is a regular contributor to the art publication Cultbytes. With her finger on the pulse, Alexandra has been working in PR for over seven years, primarily within book publishing and in the art world. She has held positions at Penguin Book Group, Aperture Foundation, and Third Eye. Alexandra graduated from Bates College in 2010.