Boxing for Art’s Sake - Ann Luther, Assemblage

At the Faulkner West Gallery, S.B. Public Library,
through September 27.

Assemblage icon Joseph Cornell did more than he’ll ever know for the world where artists act as hunter-gatherers, culling found objects as an expression of creativity and existence. A refreshingly subtle, if occasionally overly star-eyed, Santa Barbara practitioner of box-based assemblage art, Ann Luther, presently shows her wares tucked into the Faulkner West Gallery in the public library.

In her statement, Luther points directly to the towering influence of Cornell and his box-structured “cabinets of delight,” borrowing his phrase. Luther explains that she discovered his work many years ago and built up a collection of antique objects, papers, and artifacts suitable for boxing. She does so with a refreshingly light, graceful, and focused touch.

At times, her titles can be a bit new age-y and slogan-like — “Except a Miracle,” “Just Be,” and “Forgive Yourself” — more apt for bumper stickers than artworks. They limit and specifically color the viewer’s appreciation of pieces that might otherwise have a more intuitive meaning attached.

“Define Your Own Reality” is a poem portrait in material form. A rustic wooden box contains an old stereopticon, half a mask, a wheel for a nose, and a hand-held mirror for a neck, creating a whimsical mutant identity. “You Cannot Have a Better Past” touches on the fixity of one’s history, in a nostalgic confluence of buttons and a vintage photo of intergenerational women.

Gravity and organization are more disoriented, as if in a world gone both dizzy and wistful, in “Hang on Tight and Pray.” The subjects here seem to be the slippery stuff of time, emotional disarray and the clinging nature of hope.

One of the best pieces here is “What You Think About Expands,” a fittingly loony little cabinet of delight with chaotic wires springing out of a baby doll’s head, all carefully set into an elaborate wooden box. The sum effect suggests a pint-size, nondenominational shrine to expansive, nonlinear thinking. The Cornell connection rings true here, as elsewhere in the show. Site and art match up nicely, as well: finding the show, off to the side of the main Faulkner Gallery, has a sense of discovery contained in the art itself.

Reviewed by Josef Woodard