Amorphous whatzits

There is something about Annette Gates' sculptures that invites lecherous thoughts.

Who wouldn't want to cop a quick feel of Gates' odd, sensual petting zoo of creatures? They cover the walls of Kiang Gallery like barnacles or some invasive army of Godzilla microbes. If painting is all about fooling the eye with its imitation of reality, sculpture seems to stoke a related but unique impulse. Your body wants to connect with what your eyes see.

That beguiling tactility is partly a result of casting her forms in fabric casings, which imprints the works with grainy, strokable textures. The other part of the equation, and what adds to the complexity of Gates' work, is the material she employs — the kind of supple porcelain more often used for precious decorative objects like statuettes of ballerinas or granny dinner sets.

But rather than Wedgwood serving platters, Gates' quirky objects can suggest something recognizable — is it a sea sponge? A squash? Intestines? Internal organs? Peanut shells? Recovered gallstones? Sand dollars? Gates clearly enjoys the ambiguity of the forms, which push toward representation but always pull back before affording us those easy pleasures.

Granny might not approve of the forms that emerge from Gates' imagination. Her pale alabaster colors are polite and calm enough, but the objects themselves hint at naughty gestures. In a series of paired works she calls "Figuration Silicious," a reproductive relationship is implied. One object tends to have a projecting form and the other a receptive one. When paired up, the sculptures speak of harmonious, give and take relationships.

Gates supplements her serene, soymilk-colored objects with a wall of sculptures titled "Diatom Wall Aqueous," where subtle color tints lend a grosser, diseased effect. Suddenly, the sculptures seem more ominous and less pure. In another series of works, "Echo, Fossil," Gates tries casting her shapes in black. Suddenly, they shift from ethereal and mysterious to coarse and earthy, like charred remains of an ancient, unearthed civilization. Evidence of Things Unseen gives the distinct impression that Gates may be having as much fun creating her vocabulary of visual and tactile effects as viewers can have experiencing them.

Evidence of Things Unseen runs through Jan. 15 at Kiang Gallery, 1545 Peachtree St., Suite 225. Tues.-Fri., 11 a.m.-5 p.m.; Sat., noon-5 p.m. 404-892-5477. www.kiang-gallery.com. Gallery is closed for the holidays Dec. 24-Jan. 3.

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