Nov 2, 2011

REVIEW | Colby Bird: Dust Breeds Contempt, Lora Reynolds Gallery, Austin, TX

Colby Bird, Chair 2, 2011

Tucked quietly in between Third and Fourth Street on Nueces Street in Austin, the Lora Reynolds Gallery is surrounded by restaurants with valets and dance schools offering ballet lessons. A person could completely overlook it, if just passing by. When you walk in, a cheery docent greets you and invites you to look at the exhibition listings and general information. I visited the gallery to see Colby Bird’s “Dust Breeds Contempt” Exhibition.

Originally from Austin, Bird now lives and works in New York City, New York. Since graduating from the University of Colorado and the Rhode Island School of Design, he has consecutively had shows every year in multiple galleries. Only in the past two years has he returned to Austin to present his sculptures and photography.

“Dust Breeds Contempt” is an exhibition of mostly sculpture and a side of photography. There is a lot going on in this exhibition. None of the pieces are static, so if you visit it, your experience will not be the same as mine.

There are nine photographs included in the exhibition listings, but only two are displayed at a time. They are changed daily or one may ask the docent to change them for you. I got to see Saint Woodrow and Broad Side and did not request to see any others. This was a very interesting choice, because the artist has no control over what combination of photographs and sculpture the visitor sees. Bird has also chosen to use a variety of photograph printing styles, including c-prints and fiber-based pigment prints. Typical photograph display calls for the photograph to be hung upon a wall for all to see. Bird has his photographs unmatted, framed and leaning against a wall. The gallery commented on this:
The shelved and angled presentation of the photos allows for the accumulation of dust on the surface of the glass, and is a nod to the Man Ray photograph Dust Breeding, in which he photographed the gathering of dust on a pane of glass that was later used in Duchamp's The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même, 1915-1923). This relationship of image to object, and the documentation of a sculptural work in progress made into an iconic artwork itself, holds special significance for Bird; the relationship between these two artworks has served as both a model and inspiration for his work. 
This constant fluctuation continues with Bird’s sculpture selections. Something about each of the sculptures has the ability to be changed by time or even clumsy viewer. Chair 2 is one of the sculptures that sits atop a tall, skinny wooden bench of sorts. An apple supports one of its legs- well, it was an apple when I visited. Each of the four sculptures on the bench has a piece of fruit holding up a piece or section of the sculpture. The gallery must change out the pieces of fruit as they begin to rot. Each visitor to the exhibition may not even see the same fruit!
Colby Bird, Boxes, 2011
Even the pieces that do not contain a fruit element are intended to change. Cord is a spiral of painted wood, but the exhibition list also includes “dust” on the materials list. Bird wants all of his sculptures to change, even get dusty. The gallery said, “The concept of 'measureable efforts' is central to Bird's sculptural practice, and relics of this effort (scuffs, dust, cuts, etc) imbue the works with existentially essential concepts such as logic, balance, and gravity.” Boxes achieves just this. A collection of brightly painted cardboard boxes, leaning against a wall are beginning to droop, slide and gather dust. This particular sculpture was very delicate, as someone walking by could brush against one box and cause all of them to slide into a pile.

“Dust Breeds Contempt” quietly asks visitors to come see it again. With its ever-changing appearance, viewers are unlikely to have the same experience twice.

- Julie Morrison


  1. I like this, it is good and simple.
    -James Perkins