Betsy Odom investigates social constructions of gender, identity, and sexuality through her sculptural works of art. Offering a queer gaze in response to heteronormative perspectives, many of the artist’s works play on notions of “gay semiotics”—the signs, codes, and rituals that draw together and bind different LGBTQ communities. In typical Odom fashion, the artist approaches her topics with humor and open-endedness, requiring the viewer to orient themselves in relation to the work. Equally invested in material research and the tradition of extreme craft—the mixing of craft techniques like leather tooling, airbrushing, and stitching with the art formats of sculpture, painting, and drawing—Odom produces objects that aim to subvert gender roles and question how queer culture is stereotyped.
For her presentation in the Ledge Gallery, Odom presents her ongoing series of sculptures titled Handkerchiefs (2012–present) together with two further works that likewise evoke psycho-sexual connotations. As with many of the artist’s sculptures, their seductive qualities fuel a desire to touch or handle them. The delicate folds of the Handkerchiefs are actually carved from a wide range of materials, including cork, graphite, soap, and wood. But safely guarded behind the glass vitrine, they remain just out of reach. The references to sports in her other sculptures ham up the fact that many sports are intensely physical—bodies interacting intimately with other bodies—and employ objects or naming devices that are ripe for innuendo. However playful Odom’s work may be, though, there is a persistent sense of biting critique tucked into the folds.
Betsy Odom: Color Guard is organized by the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University and curated by Steven L. Bridges, Associate Curator. Support for this exhibition is provided by the Alan and Rebecca Ross endowed exhibitions fund.