Victoria Haven at the Frye Art Museum and Howard House

by Suzanne Beal
(from Art in America, March 2008)

Over a decade ago, Victoria Haven's production was generally confined to oil painting. However, after returning to Seattle from graduate school at Goldsmiths College, London, she began creating delicate wall-hung constructions of cut paper, rubber bands, tape and Mylar. Although recent work has toyed with representation--such as her 12-foot-high lightning bolt (2006) crafted of Mylar-laminated polypropylene, the back of which Haven swooshed with colored inks that reflect faintly off the wail--her recent shows at Howard House and the Frye Art Museum favored abstraction.

Robin Held, chief curator at the Frye, invited Haven to inaugurate a series of shows designed to shed new light on important works in the museum's permanent collection, the majority of it 19th- and early 20th-century French, German and American painting. Held paired Haven with Franz von Stuck's 1906 painting Sin, which depicts a serpent encircling a naked female; both of them greet the viewer head-on with cool, calm indifference. Although intended as the main component of a raised altar, von Stuck's painting has been presented at eye level since its introduction into the collection in 1952. Held elevated it and invited Haven to create a new altar. What she devised was not a conventional altar but a surround, in low relief, that is literally dazzling. Crafted of overlapping sheets of gold Mylar cut into geometric patterns and pinned approximately an inch off the wall, it radiates from the painting's frame. Haven's cutwork simultaneously evokes the seductive delicacy of lace and more ominous elements, such as the scales of a serpent. Her "altar," like von Stuck's painting, plays attraction against repulsion: its metallic sheen is alluring while its sharp edges and allusion to the snake are discomfiting.

At Howard House, in 12 recent works on paper and one wall-hung sculpture, Haven's focus on abstraction was even more pronounced. In an ink-on-paper work titled Strobe, multicolored dashed lines, like running stitches, pull the eye across a fractured field of elongated triangles, some of them visually associated in clusters by pale-yellow "shadows." Like the flashing light named in the title, the fugitive effect seems to appear and disappear. In Miner (Mylar and ink on paper), an angular, jumbled form appears to rise from a series of colored lines representing nested squares, like order giving way to chaos.

The sculpture, lampayingattention, consists of white-rubber-coated formed steel that spells out the title in cursive. It is a nod to Bruce Nauman's 1973 lithograph Pay Attention, Motherfuckers. Haven's response is as subdued and subtle as Nauman's was aggressive, yet there is no loss of impact. Her text--barely visible against the whiteness of the gallery walls but throwing a legible shadow--quietly and amusingly extends her modest engagement with space.

Visit Iampayingattention project page