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Nancy Pletos: Besides, I did not want to do anything but be here

April 12 – May 25, 2019

Nancy Pletos

Besides, I did not want to do anything but be here

April 12 – May 25, 2019

Matéria is pleased to present Besides, I did not want to do anything but be here, a solo exhibition of works by Nancy Pletos (b. Detroit, 1950, d. Royal Oak, 2016), one of the most significant artists emerging out of Detroit Cass Corridor in the early 70’s.

In 1979, at age 29, Pletos had her work featured in a solo exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts (DIA). She moved to New York in 1976, and Chicago in 1979. After returning to Michigan in 2004, she opted for a fully reclusive life. Her work has not been seen in a solo exhibition in more than thirteen years.

Besides, I did not want to do anything but be here includes different bodies of works by Pletos dating from 1974 through 2001, and is on view from April 13 through May 25. A special publication will accompany the exhibition.

Excerpts from a Statement
By Nancy Pletos, Chicago, August, 1979

(First published in the catalogue that accompanied Nancy Pletos’ solo exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts, “Works in Progress VI, 1979)

“It is hard to know sometimes how to put things together—sequence of steps for fastening and development, allowing for margin of inevitable inaccuracy, allowing for growth of inevitable inaccuracy, allowing for growth of logical order, following sensibilities dictated by what is happening, listening to what the piece…is telling me it needs, listening to what it wants to do and figuring out how I, the maker, can enable this to happen, seeing into the future, figuring it all out and doing it, then later maybe puzzling over the puzzle: how was it done? Hopefully naturally.

The hot-melt glue I use is not what one would necessarily call natural, but it has its own natural properties. It allows for gravity to settle pieces where they feel most comfortable…

Where they are made and when (not necessarily by date but by what is when for me and where and under what condition I am in and what conditions are) seem to matter. Place is important to me in a great sense as far as comfort to some extent, but mostly for availability of materials: materials I know I need and use with frequency; materials of source and reference…a place that oozes aliveness, that awakens (or re-awakens, depending) every sense by its nature…the Space, the Light, the Depth, the Color and Texture and the Sounds and Movements… all the Ongoing and Everchanging events!..;. and materials of matter I happen upon and may collect because it seems they are there for me and to use and somehow it seems I do. I gather things wherever I am and they become a part of an entity that is a finished work. The work is very biographical in that sense…

…It seems important to come to a logical conclusion, a finish, a termination…time of ripeness doneness…I have strived for that…to get my art to give me everything that does not, or cannot because of circumstances, come about in other ways from other aspects…cultivated culmination of my divergent interests…whole and self sufficient…”

NANCY PLETOS (b. 1950, d. 2016)

Nancy Pletos entered Wayne State University as a mathematics major but soon transferred to the art department, where she received her B.A. in 1972. Although a graduate painting major at Wayne (M.F.A. 1974), where she studied with John Egner,  Pletos began making small wood sculptures in 1973 (these were exhibited in a two-person show at the Willis Gallery that same year). In 1974, in a one-person exhibition at the Detroit Artists Market called “Oh Memory, Oh Memory, Oh Memory,” she showed several doll-house-like constructions built out of scraps of wood, and filled with furnishings made of bits of fabric, feathers, grass, shells, and mirrors. Pletos’ love of wood was particularly evident in a 1975 series of large, two-dimensional Logs- fantastic, organic shapes carved from sheets of plywood or Masonite. Beginning in 1976, in works she refers to as Furnishings, Pletos playfully embellished ordinary dressers, mirrors, and storage chest by adding various whimsical elements-flower-shaped drawer pulls, dayglo painted rosettes, rhinestones, or wooden beads.


It was, however, after her move to New York in 1976, that Pletos, forced to work in restricted space in the corners of various friends’ studios, created her intimate, hand-sized series, Small Wood Works. In these pieces, carefully assembled from small pieces of wood, colored glass, beads, and mirror fragments, then glazed with thick, glossy pigment or given a gritty texture with sand or sawdust, the artist sensitively transformed ordinary and cast-off materials into magical fantasy sculptures. This series was first exhibited in 1978 at the Feigenson-Rosenstein Gallery and at the N.A.M.E. Gallery in Chicago. Pletos’ most recent wood constructions, the Standing Gardens, exhibited in a 1979 retrospective at the Detroit Institute of Arts, are intricate, vertical spirals, some left unglazed, others lushly and flamboyantly colored. In contrast to the intimate scale of the small wood works, some of the gardens are over five feet tall. Pletos moved to Chicago in 1979.

Pletos returned to Michigan in 2016.

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