Bobbi Woods

Visiting with Bobbi Woods recently, we discussed the relationship between her practice and the monolithic, seamless sculptures of John McCracken. Woods excitedly drew out from her bookshelf the above well-used text and opened it to a page of all caps quotes from this enigmatic master, pointing to one that began “IMAGINATION IS THE ONLY REAL THING” or something very close to this.

I was enchanted by a vision: The book, its typesetting, Bobbi’s hands grasping the pages to show me and the light streaming in from a window made a Vermeer-esque picture of loveliness and intellectual rigor. (Boyle Heights has incredible light, perched as it is on the hills above the Los Angeles River.) I stood appreciating the moment and only later told myself, “Buddy! You had a camera – you have a blog = why didn’t you take a picture?!” So here I am, recounting to you a story of one of those big fish that got away. Um, metaphorically speaking.

Bobbi Woods, Pleasure, 2011 enamel on poster, 41" x 27"

McCracken came up in our conversation as a helpful comparison to an historical artist who made use of seamless and gorgeous surfaces that somehow suggest portents of things deeper and more wide ranging than their shiny surfaces might predict. Woods’ film posters, with much of their content painted out, double and triple by redaction the potential readings of the words and/or pictures that remain. As objects, too, Woods’ enamel sprayed posters become sculptural similar in cast to McCracken’s cubes and polyhedrons – imagine peeling the skin away from one of his objects and then pinning it to a wall and titling it Pleasure, or So Fine.

John McCracken, Alpha-1 1988 Stainless steel 15 1/8 x 9 7/8 x 9 3/8 inches (38.4 x 25 x 23.8 cm)

John McCracken, Lavender Box, 1969 Polyester resin, fiberglass, and plywood 10 x 10 1/2 x 7 7/8 inches (25.3 x 26.5 x 20 cm)

We began discussing photography – I commented to her that her practice, with its apparent devotion to neatness, reminded me of photographers that I know and much less of painters, who I place in the ‘messy’ category of artisans. As it happens, Woods studied photography in school, and film, and came to her current practice through these interests. It might be a way of working around and about while not working within a particular medium. You may read some of Bobbi Woods’ thoughts on her relationship to cinema at I Heart Photograph:

Still, the posters that I have seen often make me think of photographs – in a fanciful and conceptual way Woods takes movie posters, which are representations of (or pre-presentations for) a medium that projects a beam of light on a screen to exhibit images and stories. Photography is the act of or ability to capture light upon a receptive surface and cause an image to appear, an image that is carried by that light. When Woods hangs one of her posters on the wall she re-presents the place and moment where the light hits the wall, and when she has enameled out information this moment becomes sculptural, if (almost) flat.

At COMA (So Fine), Woods’ current exhibition at Annie Wharton Los Angeles, Woods has installed black COMA posters along one wall and at the back, and one So Fine also at the back. Walking in it seemed easy to negotiate the space – the works are all similar, except for So Fine which is a different color and text. But once I began and as I continued to make my way around, the variations among the posters became as interesting as their similarities. Repetition has value – films are hundreds of stills repeated quickly until a moving image appears seamless before our eyes, but each still is different from the last, slightly or entirely.

I became aware of the history or the paper through the folds, tears, abrasions and the various ways the papers, when unfolded, interact with the space, some curve out at the edges, some point at the middle – and these remind me first of the hoods of now old Roadrunner high performance cars from my youth and, since I am embedded in this art world, also of Richard Prince’s appropriations of that shape. (Speaking of appropriation art, Ms. Woods – how much of the ‘meaning’ of each film do you wish your audience to invest into your work?)

Bobbi Woods, If it feels good (from behind) 2011 poster, 41" x 27"

From another vantage point.

you won’t know which one

until you’ve been to all of them.

California Light

I’m heavy in your night

but I feel you more.


Another aspect to Woods’ current exhibition is a film which is displayed in black dvd cases stacked in one row, leaning, against the front wall of the space. A reductive sculpture, this will disappear throughout the duration of the exhibition until the numbered series of 200 is gone. (Or at least this is what I understand to be the case.)

The film shows blackness with subtitles at the bottom, drawn from a variety of sources including poetry, philosophy, Woods’ own writings and the appropriated and rewritten texts of others.

This all becomes complicated and interesting: the film poster works are flat (ish), the dvd, when screened is also flat. As a sculpture the dvd installation evaporates like a dream in the morning. A history appears when I spend time with the posters – I think about collecting movie fans, archives, public libraries which often have film posters displayed in the young adult section, I consider the movies and of course I also think about my own life and my relation to the films – many of which are drawn from my own brief period of watching movies back in the 1970’s.

I picked up a dvd and brought it home to watch. This black object sat on a table for several days standing out and also sucking up light. When I played it once again, as with the posters, my mind wandered – Woods’ texts drew connections to literature and to poetry, my action of looking into a monitor to see outward to another space felt eery in a way I don’t often consider, I thought back to the exhibition and to the increasingly small sculptural installation and I thought of the movies and finally also of the posters.

All this flat stuff, this light captured at the moment that it hits the wall, it all leads outward as well as inward – none of it allows my eye nor my mind to rest on an object for long.

I have been looking at Bobbi Woods’ work for much of the past four years, I have been captivated (like a moth to a light, to stretch a metaphor) and now I am beginning to understand my intuitive fascination. I’ll report more as I continue to learn. I am hopeful that what I share today will spark a comment or two – like most people, I learn better in a group.

Thanks and good stuff all around,


P.S. Please allow yourself to see any sexual implications that you can find in Bobbi Woods’ work. They are all over the place for you to roll around in. Enjoy.

Annie Wharton Los Angeles at the Pacific Design Center:

1 Comment

  1. I went by Bobbi’s show again this week, this time looking in the gallery windows rather than entering. The posters hung – I could almost see them fluttering, and they looked a bit frail, perhaps even tenuous, and I thought about the strengths and the grandnesses that I experience in them.

    One of this works’ strengths is the absence of an apology for its humble materiality. I get no sense of these works of art asking permission from the canon to be included – the objects and ideas simply exist and in doing so make their presence a fact to be dealt with.

    This modest objecthood feels right to me and very much of this moment and of this place. It is timely now, when our larger institutions in the city are arguing for inclusion in some imagined art history, that artists on the ground in Los Angeles (and probably elsewhere) are making work that soon will make that art history – and the canon we all know, love and despise – beside the point.

    Don’t negotiate – create.

    Not to put too much weight on Bobbi Woods. This comment is not intended to damn Woods with my ruminations – this is simply the way my mind works. I see the world in the fluttering breeze from an air conditioning vent, as it moves a work of art.

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