Sunday, December 2, 2007

Tanya Preminger - Mater Nostra

"The task of the right eye is to peer into the telescope,
while the left eye peers into the microscope."
-- Max Ernst
I'd like to introduce you to Tanya Preminger, an artist whose breadth and scope of work spans it all except, perhaps, painting and printmaking. Primarily a sculptor and earthworks artist, I first happened upon a critique of her Mother Altars in a late 90's issue of Flash Art magazine and was immediately smitten.
"My purpose is to express the immaterial essence of things in physical stuff: to make tangible the universal essence of creation."

"The Trinity". Photograph. 1998. Tanya Preminger.

"Sky and Earth". Basalt. 1996. Tanya Preminger.

While the underlying sexual, feminist, and maternal content of her work parallels, in my view, works by Louise Bourgeois, her sensitive approach to spacial relationships, as demonstrated in "Sky and Earth" (above), evokes an intimacy of objects and forms that I often encounter viewing Isamu Noguchi's more minimalist sculptures, such as his "Two Dependent Pieces" or "Shodo Shima Stone Study" (shown below).

"Two Dependent Pieces". Noguchi.

"Shodo Shima Stone Study". Noguchi.
image courtesy of

Many of Preminger's earthworks are executed with the same reverent spirit of earlier environmental artists. It is not difficult to find correlations to Michael Heizer's large-scale sculptures carved out of the earth, Robert Smithon's constructive approach or Andy Goldsworthy's situational land art.

Two among my favorite of her earth works:

"Layers" 1988

"Reincarnation" 1989

More than a sculptor, Preminger is an artist in the fullest sense of the word, who, working with various mediums including photography and installation art, disrupts our rational vision and dares us to look obliquely at the world to discover along with her what we might have missed. She openly invites her audience to participate, not merely as powerless voyeurs but as co-creative conspirators, as evidenced by her 2002 installation piece "On the Table".

"On the Table". 2002. Installation. Bread, table, plates, glasses,cutlery.

Unlike Judy Chicago's feminist ceremonial banquet, "The Dinner Party" (above),
at Preminger's banquet the guests get to eat the art.

I don't view On The Table as a sexually savage act bordering on cannibalism, which some have. Preminger's treatment of sex, while admittedly forceful at times, is far more complex and intricately nuanced than her surfaces at first glance suggest. Upon deeper inspection one detects a tension-filled reversal of all that is taken for granted between the sexes, and even this observation melts away if held too long, giving way to an ever shifting paradox. In her installation, the feminine, the goddess, is the giver of life (as symbolized by bread) presented on a table doubling as an altar. If anything, Preminger's treatment of the feminine is sacramental, and her work, drawing upon nature's dichotomy, is more an alchemical synthesis of masculine and feminine vitality than a deconstruction of it.

Regarding the sexual dimension found in many of Preminger's pieces, in a review titled "The Great Goddess", Gideon Ofrat writes:
The sexual act suggested in Preminger's sculptures is the metaphysical-cosmic intercourse of heaven and earth. This is not an harmonious act of surrender. Rather, it is suffused with the enormous tension of sparring contrasts and the role reversal whereby femaleness gets the better of maleness. The reversal of traditional roles imposes on the earth obtuse maleness and on the sky female qualities.3 in the 1996 Sky and earth, which features two identical rectangular blocks, albeit contrasting in material and color, the white of the upper marble block penetrates the black of the basalt block lying underneath. In traditional terminology, heaven is fertilizing the earth (mother-earth). But in terms of Preminger's reversal, which imposes femaleness on the firmament, the woman possesses the man.
What I find in Tanya Preminger's work is a viscerally arresting connection, though not always direct, between the soul and the external world. Then again, it is exactly this type of soulful connection that draws me to many of my favorite artists.

To learn more about Tanya Preminger and her art visit: