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Art review: Linda Ekstrom at Sherry Frumkin

November 11, 2010 |  4:30 pm

Tendrils (detail2) What is spelled out in the tangles of cut paper script in Linda Ekstrom’s “Nestle”? What do the scattered letters add up to in the collaged “Open Secrets”? What poetry would unfurl from the embroidered silk scrolls Ekstrom has tucked into a set of glass jars?

The Santa Barbara-based artist conceals at least as much as she reveals in her new work at Sherry Frumkin, and that purposeful restraint is key to the show’s evocative charge.

Ekstrom is a sculptor of language, but reading often plays a secondary role in the experience of her work. Meaning emerges from the material form of the letters, words or pages as much as from their literary import. She twists and loops every page of the Bible into a 56-foot chain that hangs from roof beam to floor, a stirring visualization of the book’s enduring power as a connective force. In two other works, twisted Bible pages are strung into long, sturdy cords, life-giving umbilicals or life-saving ropes. Ekstrom engages text as image but even more so as object — tactile, palpable, active.

If one end of the spectrum of text-oriented artists is occupied by conceptualists, Ekstrom’s place is nearer the opposite extreme. She’s a sensualist, and in spite of a firm intellectual foundation (referencing Nietzsche and the feminist linguist and philosopher Luce Irigaray here, for instance), in weaker moments she can also be a bit of a sentimentalist, too precious and fussy. She continues to stretch in new directions in terms of both materials and content, however, and remains one of the most eloquent artists around, whether or not she’s using words and whether or not we can decipher them.

-- Leah Ollman

Sherry Frumkin Gallery, 3026 Airport Ave., Studio 21, Santa Monica, (310) 397-7493, through Nov. 20. Closed Sunday through Tuesday.

Image: Linda Ekstrom, "Tendrils" (detail), 2010, Sherry Frumkin Gallery