Francis Cape

Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 12:15pm

VCU Student Commons Theater

exhibition: Home Front
public opening: Friday, November 20, 6-8 pm
Anderson Gallery, 907 ½ W Franklin St

The sculptures and images making up Francis Cape’s exhibition stem in part from his experiences as a disaster-relief worker in New Orleans. Waterline, the earliest of three installations in the show, features photographs Cape took in the flooded middle-class neighborhoods of Gentilly and St. Roch soon after Hurricane Katrina hit. These pictures of domestic devastation are hung above a meticulously constructed wainscot of painted paneling. “This gesture’s based on care, craft, attention to detail, and time’s in such close proximity to things torn away in an instant has a soothing psychic effect and is a way of saying a sort of material prayer for all the loss,” wrote critic Jerry Saltz in the Village Voice.Cape is foregrounding something that has probably always been in his work. But never so movingly as now.

Cape will also exhibit two recent installations that expand on London Avenue, a project developed for last year’s biennial, Prospect.1 New Orleans, that relates the destruction and rebuilding of New Orleans to Britian’s mid-twentieth-century Utility Furniture Scheme. Formed during World War II after the Blitz damaged millions of homes across Britain, the Utility Furniture Committee was charged with drafting and authorizing standard furniture designs to ensure a supply of quality furniture during a time of very scarce resources. On the one hand, the Utility Furniture Scheme was one of the last clear links between furniture design and social idealism, continuing a tradition that ran from William Morris to de Stijl to Bauhaus. On the other, it was a chance for designers such as Gordon Russell to break the British public’s taste for ornamental reproduction furniture by introducing a more modern, unadorned style.

London Avenue joins the studs of an 8-by-13-foot wall’s a standard size in many houses in the Gentilly and St. Roche neighborhoods’s with portions of a desk, chair, chest, and wardrobe constructed according to Utility Furniture designs. In another gallery, Cape pairs similarly inspired, impeccably built sculptures with photographs of wreckage taken in New Orleans, upstate New York, and Maine. He uses the spaces of these installations to consider a host of difficult issues relating not just to New Orleans but to a general cycle of American production and consumption, and to the legacy of modernist debates surrounding utility and ornamentation, social idealism and mass consumerism. With this body of work, Cape poses the question: how can we re-imagine forms and models of production in response both to historical precedent and current disaster?

Francis Cape was trained as a woodcarver before receiving his MFA from Goldsmiths College, University of London. He has exhibited his work extensively in the US, including shows at the St. Louis Art Museum; P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, Queens, NY; Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art, Ridgefield, CT; Eli Marsh Gallery, Amherst College, Amherst, MA; Contemporary Arts Center, Cincinnati, OH; and in galleries in Germany and the United Kingdom. Cape is represented by Murray Guy in New York City. He lives and works in Narrowsburg, NY.

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