Review: At the Pit in Glendale, sculpture that keeps you on your toes


Jennie Jieun Lee's sculptures are enough to quicken the pulse and enthrall the eye, but their manner of installation doubly ensures that our full selves — body and mind — avidly engage.

For her riveting show at the Glendale gallery the Pit, the New York-based Lee has roughed up the standard white-cube space and brought it in line with her work's own rugged provisional nature, its tenor of risk.

Whether we enter from the street or the zine shop, our passage through the gallery is confined to an elevated walkway made of repurposed wood planks pocked with nail holes, knotholes and the ghosts of hinges. Some of the boards of this scrappy pier are painted white and some are left raw. The irregularity registers, physically, keeping us on alert.

Lee has several of her works share the platform with us, and she sets others on the gallery floor, which reads as a sunken space that we peer down upon. These waist-high pieces in glazed stoneware and porcelain descend equally from monumental urns, architectural columns and Voulkos stacks. Roughly formed cylinders, they are augmented by patched-on bands and assorted trim, and compromised by cracks, cut-outs and collapsed walls.

Jennie Jieun Lee’s “Adeline Boone” (2017), glazed stoneware and porcelain, 36 inches by 22 inches by 13 inches (Jeff McLane / Jennie Jieun Lee and Martos Gallery and the Pit)
(Jeff McLane / Photo by Jeff McLane)

Lee applies herself to their surfaces with an exquisite balance of agility and abandon. She drips and sloshes glazes in tones of blood and bone, rose and smoke — action painting with ample moments of delicacy and quiet reprieve. She embosses sections too, with patterned ticks and zigzags, and at least one shoeprint. "Ribbon Around a Bomb," one of the sculptures on the floor, aptly names the way Lee marries explosive energy and makeshift ornament.

Our limited view of two smaller pieces installed in an even deeper recess (namesake of the gallery, formerly the bay of an auto shop) triggers delicious frustration.

"Queen" rests on a concrete ledge partway down the precarious drop, a portrait of wounded dignity, emerald, pink and blue glazes spilling down the slightly caved face beneath a tilted cockscomb crown. Vulnerability and verve run thick in this show, this vigorous, clamorous essay in clay, color, texture and space.

The Pit, 918 Ruberta Ave., Glendale. Through April 23; closed Mondays and Tuesdays.

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