This review appears in the March/April issue of Art In America
Loredana Sperini’s recent show “Tra di Noi” (Between Us), at Freymond-Guth’s new space in the Löwenbräu complex, continued the Swiss artist’s fascination with contrasting materials. Sperini, who was initially trained in fiber arts and has a strong background in craft, pursued an art education only later. She has been working with a multitude of materials and in very disparate forms, like wax, drawing, fabric, sculpture, found ceramic, and installation, since the beginning of her career in the early 2000s. Here, as elsewhere, she juxtaposed soft with hard and warm with cold materials, revealing the tensions between the natural and manufactured worlds.
Sperini’s current formal interest is the crystal, which she references in the 10 wall-hung mixed-medium pieces, two floor sculptures and a wall installation on view, all untitled and made specifically for the exhibition. Despite often being ridiculed as a new-age accessory (crystals are historically associated with healing and spirituality, black magic, and sometimes endowing owners with superhuman abilities), the beauty of their structure is undeniable. The crystal’s allure is in large part due to its geometric regularity and its ability to reflect and refract light. And our admiration for these naturally occurring structures, their strength and brilliance, has inspired us to artificially interpret and try to fashion them for hundreds of years.
And yet Sperini’s focus is on fragility, rather than the sturdiness that we associate with gems. In her nine small paintings made of wax on panels of cast cement, the fragility of the composition itself is emphasized. The artist fills cracks that she herself creates in the cement casts with layer upon layer of different colored waxes, sculpting and shaping angles and lines into the malleable wax surface that allude to the geometric crystal forms. The translucence of the wax layers establishes a visual allusion to the refraction of light in actual crystals, and the effect is mesmerizing.
In her work, Loredana plays with our ambivalence toward the crystal, alluding to both its beauty but also to the dubious connotations it evokes in contemporary culture. For example, an untitled wax and cement sculpture resembles a large chunk of an amethyst geode, the type one might find in a new-age bookstore. One side is grey and rocklike, while the other features purple wax in angles and planes. A violet wax arm, an element that directly links this work to Loredana’s previous wax sculptures of body parts, hangs under one of the vertices, as if it were spurting from it. Contained within the cupped hand is a disembodied pair of human lips. This piece evokes the human body’s fragility and uncertain placement in the world.
In an approximately 7-foot-high floor sculpture, a black polygon frame is attached to a black mirrored glass quadrilateral. Reflections of the gallery in the glass evoke the fractured and multiplied reality implied by the many faces of a crystal. The conflict between nature and culture, which leads to the battle for control over our environment, is also a subtext exemplified through the juxtaposition of body parts and geometric forms, as well as man-made and natural materials. But most importantly, the work exhibits a love for materiality and form, a tenderness for beauty, and a respect for craft that is often absent in contemporary practice.