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Sarah Wertzberger: Color Vision

Sarah Wertzberger: Color Vision at Holding Contemporary Portland, Oregon

October 3—November 2, 2019

Review by Lindsay Costello

Sarah Wertzberger’s Color Vision glows in Holding Contemporary’s low-lit space. The artist’s intricate woven works are dizzyingly complex, yet locate a delicate balance between moderation and excess. Color Vision is comprised of eleven brightly-hued weavings, ranging in size and technique used (some pieces are hand woven, while others were woven with a digital Jacquard loom.) The exhibition focuses on a curated selection of Wertzberger’s weavings—smaller, more constrained pieces reference plaid and checkered patterns, while larger pieces abandon restraint to combine patterning, abstracted imagery and bright color in a kaleidoscopic mishmash. Wertzberger’s weavings reveal the artist’s mastery of design through play, but are nonetheless challenged by a lack of discernible context.

Wertzberger uses sabotage, subversion, and warping as experimental design techniques, beginning with her smaller works. In Aura Plaid, the titular pattern glitches and shifts; in Butterfly Kisses, fringe is incorporated with a faint sublimation print. Mudwrestlers and Tea represents a turning point. The piece is still small, with a conventional striped pattern, but also includes overlapping imagery of a teacup and wrestling figures, a hint at more mischievous experimentation to come. The exhibition’s two largest weavings, Iris or Temperance and Maze Haze, reference collage, with disparate images and patterns merging in an electrifying jumble. Iris and Maze are evocative of the popular Magic Eye books from the 1990s. Repetitive imagery and patterning entrances the eye like a multidimensional autostereogram. What is embedded in these weavings that Wertzberger wants the viewer to find?

I experiment with ways of gazing at the works, examining them from inches away, then from a distance. Iris or Temperance feels cramped in a small alcove toward the back of the gallery, but perhaps that’s the point. With the walls closing in around me, I’m especially aware of the precision and detail involved in the piece. I see each thread up close. There is little insight into why Wertzberger chose to weave specific images; they seem intentionally randomized, like a Google image search infinitely refreshed. A teacup and mud wrestlers merge. A row of ducks drift across a trippy plane of oscillating squiggles. Outlines of flowers are segmented, rotated and skewed. Embedded in the fabric, there is no way to peel back the layers of these bright, vivid images; they’re forever bound. While intoxicating, the images lack a level of context that would help the viewer find deeper meaning in the works.

Color Vision illustrates Wertzberger’s complex technical skills and energetic design sense, but a consistent question echoes: What does she want the viewer to see?