ART REVIEW By D. Eric Bookhardt 09 24 02

Second Skins

Franklin Adams is an artist, but he is also an architect. Artists and architects are both involved with design, but there most similarities end. If architects are necessarily constrained to the tangible and the possible, artists are bounded only by the limits of their imagination and their ability to make dreams visible. Where architects must be concerned with structure first and foremost, most visual artists are at least as concerned with the suggestive powers of a surface, whether it be paint on canvas or ink or charcoal on paper. For that very reason, Adams' focus on articles of clothing is both natural and paradoxical.

Sure, artists from Botticelli and Velazquez to Sargent and Alex Katz have displayed a keen awareness of the sensual and symbolic powers of the wardrobe. But clothing in their work appeared on their subjects. In Adams' work the clothes themselves are the subjects, as they appear in their most commonly occurring state: on clothes hangers. Yes, this is a show of clothes in repose, hanging on clothes hangers and various related devices.

Outfit II is emblematic. In it, two L-hooks protrude from a blank plaster wall; each supports a clothes hanger. From the hanger on the right dangles a short pleated skirt, affixed to it with clothes pins. The one on the left supports a ruffled blouse made of a sheer, translucent material that drapes naturally over its wire structure as it would over the erect shoulders of a woman with good posture. Barely visible beneath the translucent material, the white outline of the coat hanger appears like a ghost. Thrown casually over the L-hook and partly covering the blouse is a sexy black bra made of a sheeny, silky material. All are illuminated by beam of bright light casting the kind of shadows seen in old Hitchcock movies. Meticulously rendered in charcoal pencil and conte on paper, all three articles of clothing display endless smooth gradations of light and shadow and precise details of stitchery. They also suggest something of their owner's presence lingering like an afterimage, or aura, an imperceptible hint of musk, soap, sweat, perfume.

Slip is more minimal and somehow less personal, a rather baggy slip hanging limply from a solitary hanger. Here Adams uses gray grisaille watercolor to convey a high resolution rendition of the dark, filmy fabric. Well kept yet oddly reticent in tone, the slip evokes a proper yet sedate persona, a sensible yet retiring woman who likes nice things. The other pieces in the show are variations of the same or closely related themes. All elicit two initial responses. The first is a kind of shock that anyone would so obsessively depict clothing in such precisely fluid and sensuous detail. The second is that more subliminal response that has to do with the way we sense other people at many different levels. What gives Adams' work its depth and presence and keeps it from being a mere academic exercise in chiaroscuro, or light and shadow, is his almost mediumistic knack for evoking the imprint of the former wearer. Yet that person is a total stranger; all of his subjects come from Thrift City, precluding any knowledge of the persona behind the fabric. And if this seems like a stretch for an architect, Adams' work reminds us that even presence and intimacy can be structured.

Another take on a closely related theme appears in Jessica Goldfinch's Interpose series at Kolektiv, a new Magazine Street gallery. Here tiny toddlers' dresses appear in plaster. Looking a little grotesque and splayed, almost like wide-bottomed antebellum gowns, each contains a jar filled with small objects: a plastic lighthouse, toy soldiers, a few hundred aspirin, even pigs' feet. Concerned with the persona behind the facade, Goldfinch used her flair for gothic, slightly morbid juxtapositions to offer up another of her explorations of decadence, both in the sense of the weirdness that goes on behind the supposed innocence of childhood, as well as in the broader sense of an American culture that celebrates ingenues like JonBenet Ramsey and Britney Spears while somehow corrupting everything in its wake, or so it may seem. She also touches on the psychic architecture of fabric -- there's something fortress-like about a plaster dress filled with toy soldiers. For Adams and Goldfinch, clothes suggest either structures of intimacy or veils of illusion. Both views ring true.