This is the start of the title for one of Rina Banerjee’s recent sculptures, currently on view in an arresting traveling exhibition at the UCLA Fowler Museum (take a deep breath):
“Viola, from New Orleans-ah, an African Woman, was the 19th century’s rescue worker, a global business goods raker, combed, tilled the land of Commerce, giving America a certain extra extra excess culture, to cultivate it, making home for aliens not registered, made business of the finer, finer, had occupations, darning thread not leisure with reason and with luster, in ‘peek-a-boo’ racial disguises …”
The sculpture’s title continues on for another 115 words, 177 in all. Together they make up a kind of nonsense prose-poem — nonsense here meaning absurdist and without the usual sense of things, rather than balderdash.
The artist is dismantling common English language, knocking it over, busting it into a thousand pieces and reassembling meaning into something evocative and new. That its music and rhythm sound vaguely Cajun — Viola, from New Orleans-ah — suggests a deliberate, careful ear rather than a Dada-style pile-up of random words.
here’s no “Untitled” work by Banerjee anywhere in the show, which brings together six sculptures, a dozen wall reliefs, 19 mostly small paintings on paper or panel and two videos, virtually all with extravagant monikers. (It was jointly organized by the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the San Jose Museum of Art.) Seen alone, such titles might seem pretentious, a showy and affected pitch simply to be different and get noticed.
Notice, they certainly do want; what artist doesn’t? But, seen with her sculptures, the titles fit like a glove. Banerjee’s art is showy too. The lists of the materials used to compose her flamboyant works are nearly as long as the titles.