In New Local Exhibits, Three Artists Uncover Layers of Meaning in the Everyday

Say you’re rummaging around in the garage. There is an old aluminum garden chair in one corner. A battered old golf bag in another. Maybe a few plastic trash cans in a box on the shelf.

Just your basic Florida stuff, right?

But in works by three artists now on display in regional museums, these ordinary objects are the fabric of art and evoke new and sometimes uncomfortable associations.

The artists – the late Charles McGill (subject of a retrospective at the Sarasota Art Museum), Akiko Kotani and Matthew Drennan Wicks (both on view in the four-museum Skyway exhibition) – operate at the interface of art, craft and handicraft and discover layers of meaning in everyday life.

Charles McGill: In the rough

Until November 11, Sarasota Art Museum, 1001 S. Tamiami Trail, (941) 309-4300,

“It’s a tug of war, it’s a wrestling match … and I really wouldn’t want it any other way.” This is how Charles McGill once described his use of golf bags as a medium.

The fight is now visible in the exhibition in the SAM. McGill (1964-2017) not only disassembled golf bags to create his sculptures; he tore them to shreds, tore them into twisted shapes reminiscent of clan hoods, and covered them in collages of lynchings. McGill, a classically trained African American artist who studied race and representation, loved, played, and taught golf. The sport, with its legacy of country club exclusivity (read: discrimination), provided fertile ground for both sardonic commentary and art.

As guest curator Joe Lewis suggests in his notes on In the Rough, McGill’s appropriation of golf paraphernalia went through different phases, beginning with the cover – those not-too-subtle collaged bags and performative events at which McGill knocked off in stereotypical golf-y argyle panties in Harlem. The hooded golf clubs remodeled as “Klan Marauders” are part of what Lewis calls McGill’s Reveal Period, followed by Evolve, when the more overt political messages merge into what McGill calls the “painting-informed assemblage.” “- a torn golf bag that is bullseye-like Summertime. In this, McGill’s most mature period, the work defies simple interpretation, but still has a powerful aesthetic impact.

Nothing is easy about McGill’s art. But as the artist said in the interview quoted above (a must-see video on the SAM site), “If the material were easier to work with, I don’t know if I would get the same result… I don’t want any Serenity. “

Akiko Kotani: Red Waterfalls

Akiko Kotani Red Waterfalls

Until September 1 as part of Skyway: A Contemporary Collaboration 20/21, USF Contemporary Art Museum, 4202 E. Fowler Ave., Tampa, (813) 974-2849,

Dramatically located in a corner of the USFCAM galleries, Akiko Kotani’s lush, voluminous Red Falls plummet 4.5 meters from the ceiling and pummel gracefully on the floor like a giantess’ ball gown. If you take a closer look you can see that the whole thing is crocheted, like grandma’s Afghans.

But while the material may look a bit like glittery wool yarn, it isn’t. It’s made from threads made from garbage bags: shiny red polypropylene crocheted by Kotani in 28 lengths, each length taking approximately a week to complete.

Sounds like a chore and it is. Kotani uses a giant crochet hook, she says, so the process isn’t overly difficult – just time-consuming. But the act of crocheting is central.

The play is “a glorification of women’s work,” she says, paying homage to the silent acts of domesticity, which are vital for households but are seldom recognized. She wants to overcome the unwelcoming cliché of an aunt crocheting in the corner, “to show that women can work like this – very large, very complex”.

And powerful. In her previous work with crochet – like Soft Walls, which she created for the first Skyway exhibition in 2017 – the scale was large, but the impact was more ethereal, perhaps because she used white polypropylene. Here the red makes a wallop that is reminiscent of blood flow – especially menstrual blood, which is frowned upon in many cultures, says Kotani, because it is associated with procreation, “which gives women a certain power” over men.

But the ultimate strength of the work lies in the material itself. The garbage bags stand for disregard and resilience – “a woman’s resilience to all the things that are thrown at her in a society”.

Matthew Drennan Wicks: The Stretcher Series

Pieces by Matthew Drennan Wicks in the Museum of Fine Arts

Until August 22nd as part of Skyway: A Contemporary Collaboration 20/21, Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, St. Petersburg, (727) 896-2667,

The craftsmanship is scary.

The multi-colored plastic fabric and the curved steel frames are immediately reminiscent of the mass-produced, machine-made garden chairs of yore, but these are not chairs. They are flat, sculptural objects leaning against a gallery wall. And they didn’t make machines; Artist Matthew Drennan Wicks did.

“My original idea was to get real garden chairs and dismantle them,” he says. But that didn’t match, so he bought vintage re-webbing kits on eBay and taught himself how to bend steel pipe like an electrician using a pipe bending tool.

Wicks, trained as a ceramist, is interested in “presenting known objects in an unfamiliar way … looking at the functional object, but intervening in its function”. (In the first Skyway exhibition at the Ringling in 2017, he showed a large ceramic laundry basket.)

“The beautiful curves of the garden chair were designed so that the chair doesn’t sink into the sand,” he notes. When the chair is separated from this function, we can focus on the curves that Wicks transforms into body-related shapes: for example, an L that suggests the way the body hinges at the waist. The belt strap is also moving more into focus; the over-under, under-over patterns are reminiscent of both weaving traditions and the overlapping blocks of color in a Mondrian.

Wicks is from New Orleans and lived in the Pacific Northwest for many years before graduating from USF, where he now teaches. Although he initially noticed a change in the color palette of his artwork after moving here, he says the Stretcher series may be “the Florida thing I’ve ever done”.

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