By Su Wu
The artist Alma Allen is not prone to words, which he says are reliable to him only in their misuse. But he likes a poem by the great Wislawa Szymborska, called “Conversation With a Stone,” and this line: “My whole surface is turned toward you / all my insides turned away."
Allen is known as a recluse. His years as a teenage runaway and itinerancy have been widely reported, and one recurring theme of carvings is their reflection of longing: of wanting to be seen but hidden, of a particular shyness and fluidity. The forms show us on their outside something of their insides and in this way are like our straining selves, with outstretched arms in mid-sentence, trying to indicate what we mean to one another.
To put such a notably difficult artist “in conversation,” then, with the iconic sculptor J.B. Blunk takes matchmaking sensitivity, from the curator Brooke Hodge, who conceived of this brilliant exhibition as a “blind date.” Blunk, who died in 2002, carved whole universes out of seemingly inert material, giving interior lives to massive wooden forms with confident humor, and building his masterpiece, an entirely handmade home in the remote woods of Inverness, California.
It’s a bombshell of a show that lets the art do the talking—a retrospective of Blunk’s influential furniture and sculpture next to new pieces by Allen—with photographs of both artists’ handmade studios by Lisa Eisner and Leslie Williamson.