September 4 to October 9
527 West 23rd Street / 534 West 24th Street,
both between 10th and 11th avenues
New York City, 212-627-8000
Diana Al-Hadid’s menacing, heavily worked, baroque structures take arrested hubris as their theme. In three large sculptures, powerful in impact and ambition alike, a wall installation and supporting drawings, once-soaring, elaborately engineered towers are rendered as ruins, whether slowly decaying in fragments or caught in a moment of catastrophic meltdown. Her evocations of destruction and decomposure generate rich surfaces as well as unsettling contemplations of the demise of powerful systems.
The artist has been hooked on towers for several years now, involved in what can be taken as a reverse Watts Towers syndrome — instead of transforming found, non-art materials to create an aspirational edifice, Ms. Al-Hadid deploys considerable artistry to depict with a literalist intensity state of the art, fabricated structures in a frozen instant of failure.
The formal and intellectual sources for these intriguing, ambitious objects lie in medieval architecture, the Bible, and astro and nuclear physics. The labyrinth on the floor of Chartres Cathedral and Breughel’s Tower of Babel, are cited, along with the research project to find “the god particle” in the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, which gives the show its scientific title.
Viewing toppled towers at this time of the year, however, raises the specter of September 11, 2001, as an assault on western notions of strength and progress. As a young Arab-American (she was born in Aleppo, Syria, in 1981, and raised in Cleveland, Ohio) Ms. Al-Hadid inescapably folds her own identity into such a reading of her work.
Of the four sculptures, the simplest is possibly the most affecting: “The Tower of Infinite Problems” (all 2008), filling Perry Rubenstein’s project space on West 24th Street with claustrophobic effect, is a fractured spire lain on its side. The intestines of the tower show that it is structured around a polygon and fabricated from honeycomb-like mesh, itself one of nature’s most complex labyrinths. What should be guarantors of strength have unraveled with the tower. Partial retention of its ordering shape is rendered all the more pathetic once supine.
A version of this review first appeared in the New York Sun under the heading “Frozen Instants of Failure” on Thursday, September 18, 2008print