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Willie Cole: The Other Side

by Rebecca Dimling Cochran

Branded Irons, 2000. 4 scorched plywood panels, 84 x 84 in.
Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, NY
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Speedster tji wara, 2002.
Bicycle parts, 46.5 x 22.2 x 15 in.
Courtesy Albright-Knox Art Gallery and Alexander and Bonin, NY

Willie Cole creates elegant artworks that challenge prevailing ideas of identity and perception. His combination of visually seductive materials and witty humor serves to temper his serious and sometimes difficult subject matter. In his deft hands, discarded domestic items are transformed into mythical figures and objects that carry poignant commentaries within their iconographic arrangements.

Now at a crucial point in his career, Cole is garnering serious national attention and critical appraisal in a series of important exhibitions. New sculptures and prints by the artist were on view in January 2006 at Alexander and Bonin Gallery in New York. “Afterburn,” an exhibition of selected works from 1997 to 2004 organized by Susan Moldenhauer, began a six-venue tour across the United States in 2005. A second traveling exhibition curated by Patterson Simms opens at the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey in March 2006.

The surveys, in particular, expose the linear threads that run through Cole’s work. The household iron, for example, is an object he has returned to again and again. Since his first sculpture of a crushed iron in 1988, Cole has explored the utilitarian object from different angles, always coming up with new and interesting ways to exploit its implied references.

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