June 3, 2011 By David Pagel
"Wayne White's Sand Mountain Tractor at Western Project"
“Sand Mountain Tractor,” Wayne White’s comfortably crowded exhibition at Western Project, is a tour de force display of artistic virtuosity that is neither forceful nor particularly impressed with itself. Warmth and humility suffuse everything White touches, without taking the edge off of his ferociously funny and wickedly sympathetic sketches, drawings, paintings, sculptures and puppets.
Any one of the many mediums in which White works would provide enough material for a satisfying show. It’s common to visit exhibitions with far less going on than what transpires in the single vitrine filled with sketchbooks, all jam-packed with White’s doodles, studies and scribbles. And that’s the tip of the iceberg.
Five freestanding figures fill the gallery with a deliciously queasy combination of country bumpkin charm, avant-garde experimentation, childish whimsy and redneck menace. Made of snapped badminton rackets, broken brooms, a rooftop vent and a motorized pig chomping on a femur made of wood, White’s mutant scarecrows leave a lot to the imagination, and not much of it is pretty.
Eight marionette-size figures have the presence of cast-off talismans, their powers too skittish to provide succor with sufficient regularity.
Ten paintings are also at cross-purposes with themselves. Some seem to channel Paul Klee and Joan Miró only to be so put off by the potential pretentiousness that they pile on cartoon corniness.
White’s 27 drawings fall into four groups: labyrinthine networks that make a virtue of insecurity; spare collages interrupted by torn-up bits of cardboard; abstract figures with enough detail to be portraits; and dreamy landscapes that evoke the ghost of H.C. Westermann and the touch of William Wiley.
If all that weren’t enough, White has also included the stage, set and marionettes for a puppet show he and five assistants put on intermittently throughout the run of the exhibition. Loopy and loaded, its restaging of the Civil War can’t be beat.