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Art Review: Josh Beckman at Machine Project

September 23, 2010 |  5:00 pm

Josh Beckman

To step into Josh Beckman’s installation at Machine Project is to enter a world in which anything is possible. All that’s required is an active imagination. “The Sea Nymph” does the rest.

Made of wood, cloth and rope, “The Sea Nymph” is an approximately life-size model of a sailing ship that Beckman has crammed into the small gallery. Its stern tips steeply skyward. This suggests that the rest of the hull has disappeared through the floor and that the boat is about to sink swiftly.

Several masts, yards and spars protrude from the floor at odd angles, along with lots of elaborately knotted rigging. A makeshift jungle gym, this part of Beckman’s installation invites kids to climb on it. The same goes for the tiny cabin at the ship’s stern, which functions like a fancy tree house.

The physical features of Beckman’s fragment of a ship reveal him to be a savvy sculptor. Like Jennifer Pastor, Nancy Rubins and Judy Pfaff, he commands every cubic inch of the gallery while leaving visitors plenty of room to maneuver.

Beckman is also acutely aware of the pictorial issues that traditionally occupy painters, including perspective, composition and illusionism. The masts, spars and rigging of his ship are not the same scale as its hull and cabin. This warps space and messes with one’s sense of equilibrium. And a hatch in the cabin’s floor does double-duty as a picture frame that opens onto a crystal cave jam-packed with fake amethyst.

The ancient Greeks believed that amethyst prevented drunkenness. Beckman’s topsy-turvy installation disorients in order to enhance perceptual acuity, to activate a visitor’s eyes, body and imagination.

 -- David Pagel

“The Sea Nymph,” Machine Project, 1200-D N. Alvarado St., (213) 483-8761, through Oct. 8. Open Fri.-Sun. and usually throughout the week, call first.

Image: Josh Beckman, "The Sea Nymph," courtesy of Machine Project