Santa Fe Art Institute

Martha Russo is an exuberant, adventurous sculptor and installation artist whose work here filled corners and smaller rooms and spilled over into unexpected spaces, like the exteriors of window frames. Though she works in various mediums, some of them a little eyebrow-raising (such as pig intestines and tangerine pulp), she excels most notably as a ceramist who can conjure startling shapes and associations.

Her larger efforts in this show, often created in tandem with collaborators whose contributions were not spelled out, were less successful than her individual pieces. Shibumi (no. 4), 2013 was a sprawling accretion of mostly ceramic shapes which exploded from the walls and floors of one corner. It included references to aquatic life and human anatomy, along with strange doodads of an unidentifiable nature. Another installation, spora (no.3), also 2013, combined fluorescent light, translucent spheres of paper and “Dragon Skin,” and thickets of draped and dangling black cords. The connection between these two large works was elusive, though the wall text offered a clue: The art “springs from the worlds of cellular biology and organ anatomy, cross-pollinated with underwater seascapes and domestic environments.”

That’s both a mouthful and an eyeful, and almost overshadows Russo’s very real talents as a sculptor. Two powerful pieces installed in the entryway, cavity(1994) and clump (2010), with their abstract, vaguely male and female forms, have the intensity of works by Louise Bourgeois–and drop and trickle (both 2000), demonstrate Russo’s capacity to surprise, with their uncomfortable references to disease and decay. Nomos (dot), from 2013, with its Medusa-like tangle of squirming shapes, is a nightmarish tour de force made from porcelain, Styrofoam, wood, and paper. A little editing would have made this show more memorable–but as it was, the parts made up for the sum of the whole.
–Ann Landi