“Mark di Suvero: Sculpture and Drawing”
Paula Cooper Gallery, 534 West 21st Street, New York (between 10th and 11th Avenues 212 255 1105) through November 15
“Jessica Stockholder: Table Top Sculpture”
Gorney Bravin + Lee, 534 West 26th Street (between 10th and 11th Avenues, 212 352 8872
Brent Sikkema, 530 West 22nd Street, New York (between 10th and 11th Avenues, 212 929 2262) through November 22
Usually, adolescent instincts in front of a work of art are best ignored. Yet on both occasions that I stood in front of Mark di Suvero’s monumental “XV” (1971), which is being given a new airing by Paula Cooper, I had to suppress a childlike urge literally to run up one of the strutting I-beams that forms the “V” of its title. (The sculpture essentially consists of an “X” imposed upon a “V,” and it rhymes a little more with the rafters of this extraordinary roof than anyone can have bargained for). The piece exudes all the butch and brawn of the constructed metal sculpture tradition to which it belongs, reaching 21 feet into the air to fill this capacious gallery. It is, if nothing else, a feat of engineering.
Luckily for me, “XV,” and fellow visitors, I restrained myself. But that the work brought out a sense of movement and joy is no bad thing. Mr. di Suvero clearly has ambitions in this direction. The second sculpture in the show, a 1990 work called “Hopesoup,” is actually a mobile. While no one would claim Calderesque whimsicality for it, fun is nonetheless the order of the day. Its industrial components defy their own clunkiness with graceful, balletic movements. If “XV” nods in the direction of the heavy-duty idealism of the Russian Constructivists, “Hopesoup” allows a light-hearted skepticism about the pretentions of the machine age: It is more Léger’s “Ballet Mecanique” than Tatlin’s “Monument to the Third International.”
On a label that lists assistants who helped in this installation, a name popped out: Ivana Mestrovic. Inquiry confirmed her as the granddaughter of Ivan Mestrovic, who at the time of the birth of his nation was fêted worldwide as Yugoslavia’s Michelangelo. His carvings are rather fabulous, but his reputation has gone the way of his homeland. What will history do with Mr. di Suvero’s?
The septuagenarian is rightly held in high esteem as one of the more substantial heirs of Calder and David Smith. But steering his aesthetic course between whimsy and brutalism (the raw and the cooked), he seems hemmed in by his most notable peers, Richard Serra and Anthony Caro. To me Mr. di Suvero is always too sculptural to compete with Mr. Serra in minimal bravura and not sculptural enough to genuinely surprise and intrigue like Mr. Caro.
Inherent in Mr. di Suvero’s constructed forms is a nostalgia for industrialism and the avant-gardes that it spawned. And despite the energy and accomplishment of his works, it is hard not to detect in them a corresponding hint of weary displacement.
In her relentless quest for prefabricated forms and synthetic colors, the art world’s scavenger supreme, Jessica Stockholder, has found a new, hitherto untapped source: other people’s art.
Her latest exhibition crams a salon hang of 42 works by contemporaries into a studiedly eclectic gallery corner. The viewer can savor the selection in the comfort of rescued retro furniture, and browse magazines if they get bored.
The artists taking part are presumably good friends with enough of a sense of humor to allow their creations to take their chances amidst the visual riot of Ms. Stockholder’s installation. She is a deft hand at picking out colors and textures that howl. But appropriating artworks is a logical development for her, and it is not such a surprise that artists as prominent as Mel Bochner (her colleague at Yale, where she leads graduate sculpture), Barry Le Va, James Hyde, David Reed, and Elizabeth Murray should play along. For at the end of the day, Ms. Stockholder is actually no iconoclast at all.
She raids the depths of kitsch for her source materials and is determined to break down boundaries between art and life. But unlike her forebears in this tradition – from the pioneers of Dada through Rauschenberg and Oldenburg to contemporary masters of the abject like Mike Kelley – Ms. Stockholder has an aesthetic free of anger or the need to denigrate. On the contrary, she has a Midas touch.
While she generally keeps found stuff intact, she chooses and arranges it so as to shed the commercial and industrial “anti-patina.” There is no implicit social critique: She is as pure a formalist as she is impure a dadaist.
Despite her nominal status as a sculptor, and her protean output as an installation artist, Ms. Stockholder has the heart of a painter. She takes brush and paint to her surfaces, delighting in the gruesome painterliness of oils smeared against bathroom mats or carpeting. Her whole palette, as an appropriator, is surface-oriented, having more to do with color and texture than volume or presence.
Her connection of art and life has the optimism of the romantics, with pop culture taking the place once occupied by nature. Goethe could intuit that products of the imagination were an order of nature, subject to its laws of growth; Ms. Stockholder tests the commonalities of class art and crass non-art but leaves each party’s honor intact. The artworks retain their aura, while somehow her use of even the tackiest chandelier or garish moulded plastic refrains from patronizing its intended consumers.
Jeff Gauntt’s second exhibition at Brent Sikkema confirms him as a force of nature and artifice combined. After seeing his show a few times I still couldn’t decide if he has the insouciance of an outsider or the canny of a fully clued-in art-world apparatchik.
With exhilarating craft, Mr. Gauntt carves dreamlike, folkloristic tableaux in wood, and colors them in a trippy nursery palette. Trees, tree houses, birds, and branches abound, with roots fiddling their way through compartmentalized subterranean and submarine realms. The imagery is odd but undistressingly so, a kind of low-octane surrealism. Carving and coloring alike are precious, delicate, somewhat fey.
Mr. Gauntt constructs an elaborate kindergarten for the eye. It’s hard to know what the eye is supposed to do when it gets there, but the journey is fun.
A version of this article first appeared in the New York Sun, November 6, 2003print