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"Object Alchemy: New Sculpture by Lee Hoag"


An already stylish studio and gallery shared and operated by Rick, Robin, and Margot Muto, AXOM Gallery is becoming even more so with the integration of a design showroom. With a formal opening of AXOM Objects coming up in May, Robin has already begun showcasing a variety of elegant and useful modern objects — from tableware, to lighting, to furniture — by a handful of domestic and international artists. Currently complementing these offerings is the sculptural work of Lee Hoag, peppered throughout the entrance area showroom, and on display in the gallery-proper.

It was a great move on the part of the Mutos to include some of Hoag's pieces amid the showcased furniture, as it gives visitors — and potential buyers — a sense of what living with the work is like.

And the sculpture is pleasing to be around without being distracting; it's a body of understated statement pieces. Carefully balanced assemblages of various objects robbed of their original utility, the works are pared-down, streamlined forms of fascination. Hoag has a slick knack for seeing and acting on the unpredicted potential between objects. I had a lot of fun coming up with meaningless labels for his slippery sculpture: Post-industrial Pop artifacts. Space-age elementals. Haute Future.

This theft of function is ironic enough, but there is humor also in applying a skillful, handcrafted element to factory-produced, "readymade" materials. Hoag is interested in the slippery status not only of material objects and their function, but also of assigned meaning.

Each work is amusingly titled with puns, cleverly referencing the components used to create it ("Socket Toomey" describes its contents; "Party Pooper" includes a plunger), or playing off an object association derived from the mind of the artist himself.

Hoag uses a variety of manufactured media, including metal bowls, ceramic vases, cords and tubes, baskets, gaskets, and other hardware; all disparate objects fitted together so carefully that the end results seem meant to be.

The title and form of "Tweedle Dee" potentially alludes to multiple things, simultaneously referencing the tinker-y manipulation of the objects by the artist, the twisty bit at the top which looks like a citrus juicer, the squat and bulbous shape of the character from "Through the Looking-Glass," and likely some that I haven't recognized. Where's Tweedle Dum, then? Beware the snark: the piece bounces a distorted reflection of the viewer from its central, high-polished surface.

Other works are large totems, stacked abstractions not of animals, but of the objects that fill our daily lives. Hoag has consciously named the ones that feel like a presence accordingly. "Embody" reminds me of an urn, but also a simple, streamlined robot, sterile without being stale. Associations float and flounder, and I arrive at some meaning: a futuristic encasement for organic remains and electronic components, which can wirelessly transmit thought. What can I say — I dig sci-fi. "Chum" has a similar effect, with a copper-banded tube slung over its back and hanging down like arms, and dimples in the elongated metal "head" like a thousand primitive eyes.

Vessels figure greatly in the work, the transparency or opacity of which affect the tone of each piece and provide clues to how we may imagine the new object's function. But the interpretation of each work is left up to the individual. In a provided statement, Hoag says he intends for his sculptures to exist as objects of contemplation, "marked in some way by the viewer's own response, imaginations, and interpretations — changed."

A sealed off, see-through container in the elegant, vacuum-like work, "Succor," is connected by a hose to a decorative vessel with a fluted end. I saw something the Ghostbusters would use, if that story was set in a steampunk version of the Arabian Nights tales. Gazing at the work, I imagined the apparatus being used to trap some mythic smoke entity, which would remain on display in the glass cage.

That may sound ridiculous, but it's mine, an intangible experience floating between the sculpture and my internal library of associations. Every onlooker will see something entirely different.

So the artist is an alchemist, spinning the mundane into gold. But there is also a constant shift going on between the work and its various viewers, who have an unconscious or realized power to transform what stands before them.

Hoag's work stabs a pin in what a lot of representational art cannot — that no matter what you're looking at in this wide world, you're changing it based on your own life experiences. What you encounter is filtered through transparent layers upon layers of experience and emotion, memory and dream.

A closing reception and artist talk will take place at AXOM Gallery on Saturday, April 25, 3 to 5 p.m.