Virginia Yount

Women & Their Work, Austin

Sean Ripple

Virginia Yount, Miracle Mine (for Non-Believers), 2010; gouache on paper; 30 X 22 inches; courtesy the artist and Women & Their Work, Austin

Virginia Yount, Climate Control (for Shut-ins), 2010; gouache and holographic scratch-paper on paper; 22 x 30 inches; courtesy the artist and Women & Their Work, Austin

It’s easy to recognize the faults of hoarders—obsessive, messy, out of touch, emotionally tangled up in objects. These individuals are a “buried alive” bunch who crowd their homes with unsettling quantities of odds and ends, like VHS cassettes and bread bag ties, to the point that many require the help of psychologists to reduce their sprawling collections down to a manageable amount.

Unsustainable Attainment, Austin artist Virginia Yount’s solo exhibition at Women & Their Work, offers up a series of doomsday fantasies that attempt to rescue the hoarding type from the pop judgments of a culture filled up on TLC’s and A&E’s recent reality TV fixin’s. Twelve gouache-on-paper works, two oil-on-canvas paintings and a mixed-media sculpture together tell a redeeming story: In the near future, due to an existential shift of calamitous proportions, pack rats have been forced to hone their habits to survive. Salvaging discrete units of mass culture and using them as building blocks for ramshackle structures that shield their inhabitants from the harsher elements of a volatile natural world, these hoarders have become fledgling engineers and architects, frontiersmen in a postconsumer wasteland.

In their hands, a collection of books becomes a crude dome dwelling, piles of clothes form crawlspaces for covert travel from one point to another, and old car-lot tinsel and tires decorate beachfront property in a manner equal parts Fischli & Weiss precarious arrangement and Urban Outfitters store display. The world Yount depicts is certainly a desolate “Bartertown.” A tower has been erected as a monument to social media [Fortress of Solitude (for Twitter)] and techies hide in trees [Nest (for Technophiles)]. Though her scenes are devoid of people, one sees these rugged idealists, fat on perseverance, if nothing else, reflected in their makeshift spaces created from the heaping leftovers of a leveled society.

Yount’s gouache paintings—intricate, detailed, tightly rendered and fussy, with bone stew-like arrangements found only in the best antique store displays—better suit her narrative than do the two heroically scaled oil paintings featured. The oil paintings, like the exhibition’s sculpture, Throw Cash into the Wind—a large Quikrete island littered with a maquette-sized minaret, mausoleum, shanty, pavilion and castle, all constructed from scratch-off lottery tickets—are a large gestural stroke in need of finer treatment.

For all the log-cabin romanticism Yount pays hoarders, her paintings level an equal measure of criticism. In their obsessive love of stuff, hoarders (read consumers) often shut themselves off from the demands of the natural world, attending to their own personally crafted universe of desire made possible by an economy of mass production that encourages us to take as much as we can. It is exactly this relationship between producer and consumer, object and hoarder, that may be a root cause of a coming socio-environmental collapse from which our culture may never recover.

Sean Ripple is a multimedia artist and writer living in Austin, TX.

This exhibition is on view through November 12, 2010.

« return to table of contents