Complicit: Gallery is part of the show

Gay Outlaw graduated from the University of Virginia in 1981 with a degree in French, moved to France for studies in the culinary arts, found photography, and then somehow ended up reappearing at her alma mater as an installation artist.
Outlaw’s return to the University– with a site-specific installation, fresh and ready at the University of Virginia Art Museum— closes one strange circle. Outlaw’s biography at least has an impact on her current exhibit (the photography and the culinary arts bits, that is– unless I’m missing something, there’s little Francophone in evidence).
Her exhibit, in a coy, playfully shy kind of way, investigates perception and shape. Two of the pieces on display have been created specifically for this exhibit and only in the few days prior to the opening of the exhibit.
For “Caramel Pen,” Outlaw proves that those cooking classes weren’t a total waste; here, she’s cast amber-like, giant, translucent Lincoln Logs out of Karo Syrup and sugar and stacked them into a square-shaped fence. The logs were specifically fashioned in a hexagonal to match the tiles on the floor of the space. It’s a subtle touch, but it effectively ties this certain element of the gallery space to this small element of the work. At once, the whole gallery floor becomes part of the exhibit.
Hexagons reappear in “Hex Squeeze,” the other brand-new piece consisting of a set of clay hexagonal bars that run along the ground of the gallery floor and then bend up the wall. This arrangement– a work set in an odd, out-of-the-way location in the gallery– is typical of Outlaw’s work on display. Not only is she seizing on similar shapes to tie things together, she also likes to place her artwork in the places in a gallery where viewers aren’t accustomed to looking. 
“Hex Squeeze” finds the joint where the floor meets the wall; her photo collage (a very neat and tidy set of 3 x 4-inch photos) runs around a corner; “Perf Stack,” hangs from the ceiling, a foot or so above most people’s eye level. 
It’s as if her artwork tries to slink away from your eyes, and in turn takes them to places in the gallery space not often observed. Once again, Outlaw turns the gallery itself into a silent partner.
With these small, simple, but well-conceived gestures, Outlaw’s work accomplishes a great deal.

Gay Outlaw’s “New Work” runs through October 12 at the University of Virginia Art Museum. 155 Rugby Road. 924-3592.

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