Babel’s Bricks: The Power of Play
by Michelle Aldredge, gwarlingo.com June 23, 2017
THE DIFFICULTY OF PLAY
While North Adam’s MASS MoCA celebrates the grand opening of Building 6 this month, just down the street Gallery 51 embraces its playful side as guest-curator Corwin Levi tackles the most ambitious of art enterprises: participation.
The centerpiece of Babel’s Bricks, a block-themed group show, is a series of pedestals covered with colorful Legos, wooden blocks, Tinkertoys, and other pieces, which the public is invited to assemble into playful configurations. The result is a lively miniature landscape—think Montessori visits the Island of Misfit Toys. Levi, who admits he loved “building new worlds” out of mismatched block sets as a boy, invites us to participate in a social experiment meant to channel our inner child.
Ryder Richards’s four drawings of commonplace hardware items—unified by their glowing, fluorescent orange—are also a knockout. From a distance, the clarity of the objects, and the satisfying shadow cast by the roll of tape, fooled me into thinking the works were photographs. Instead, they are finely executed acrylic and graphite drawings cleverly playing off of the block concept. These objects—an industrial extension cord, clamps, and roll of tape—are both blocks themselves, as well as the glue that allows other systems of blocks to exist in the first place. Levi believes they can be considered visual metaphors and linguistic symbols too, quite literally in the case of the O-shaped tape. Ryder is also a master of titles—“Apocalypse Prevention Kit” for the tape drawing, “Birds of a Feather…Are Stupid Together” for the flock of six clamps, and “Electric Lasso = Disco Power + Impromptu Bondage Maker” for the extension cord. It’s hard to believe so much meaning can be crammed into four drawings of everyday objects.