Sunday, June 17, 2012

mind, matter and exquisite things

detail: Daniel Wiener, Mongrel, 2008, Apoxie sculpt

diversities of sculpture/derivations from nature
longhouse reserve
curated by bonnie rychlak 

On view this season, the artist/curator Bonnie Rychlak has assembled stunning works by six contemporary artists. The show, now on view at LongHouse, includes Ronald Bladen, Ann Chu, Brian Gaman, Jene Highstein, Judith Shea and Daniel Wiener

another form of art, also at Longhouse

Rychlak's mission was to assemble divergent works that would create a dialogue not through a thematic concept but across genres, focus, and places in history. A signature work, The X, by the late Ronald Bladen sets the stage for a cross-generational exchange.  

Ronald Bladen, The X, 1965, painted aluminum

Bladen was an icon, and back in the day his impact on my generation of artists was profound. Elegant simplicity, exacting minimalism and economy of means torqued our meanings and the way we, as artists, assimilate symbols, language and abstract form.
Nearby, 2012 Guggenheim Fellowship recipient Judith Shea presents an elegiac work titled Idol. Part of her 9/11 series, The Legacy Collection, Shea's cloaked man overlooks the gushing Black Mirror (by Ray Smith and Associates), that presides over a curious trinity. Flanked by the fountain that is so reminiscent of New York's 9/11 Memorial at ground zero and Bladen's monumental "x", Shea's powerful figure appears at once pensive, judicious, and archetypal.

Judith Shea, Idol, 2011-12, bronze, stainless steel, aluminum

Black Mirror (Ray Smith and Associates)

At first glance, Ann Chu's Maranao Man appears like a boy Harlequin, but closer inspection reveals a disagreeable scowl -- not the stuff of your average jester. Chu's intriguing contradictions bounce between satire and folklore, delivered here with a touch of whimsy and a little intimidation. 

Ann Chu, Maranao Man, 2004, bronze

The Maranao, for which her sculpture is named, are Islamic inhabitants of Lake Lanao in the Philippines. Theirs is a tribal culture that is defined by its Kulintang (gong) music, art and artistry and traditions fueled by folklore. Their complex imagery, derived from legends, storytelling, and their own tropical environs, is noteworthy. Okir, perhaps the best known of Maranao ornamentation, combines the geometric and the organic in complex floral patterns. Chu's Maranao Man is similarly festooned -- his costume embellished with elaborate floral designs -- rendering him sympathetic in spite of his onerous expression.

Brian Gaman, Untitled 3 Globes, 1987, cast iron and steel

The luscious patina on Brian Gaman's orbs is a phenomenon owed to this exhibition, as the works had never before been sited outdoors. The elements have provided a painterly surface treatment, with time and process accumulating in rivulets of color.

As Rychlak notes in her astute catalog essay, these works express a monumentality even though they're not that big. As a concept, "the globe" is immense in and of itself and here Gaman's Untitled 3 Globes reiterate the curvature of the earth, a physical imperative that is implicit among the wide expanses at LongHouse.

Form determines content in Jene Highstein's soaring Flora Tower, a looming stack of hand-hammered stainless steel segments that are gently imposing, ceremonial, and iconic. Highstein has said of his work:  

"Stone age tools, ceremonial objects, and idols fascinate me and are among the source of materials for my work. The content of my work is not so much nature abstracted, but a form which is evolved in relation to nature and which carries with it natural associations."  from The Mattress Factory

For some four decades now, Highstein's body of work has straddled the tenets of modernism and minimalism, yet it remains independent of both. Materiality, process and gesture -- ceremony and ritual -- the evolution of Highstein's art defies categorization.

Daniel Wiener, Mongrel, 2008

Functioning at the other end of the kaleidoscope, in Daniel Wiener's installation, Mongrel, three distinct sculptural forms convulse with energy under the dappled sunlight of this pastoral setting. The works possess a writhing, psychedelic restlessness that is exquisitely modern, and the Guggenheim seemed to agree -- Wiener received a Guggenheim Fellowship earlier this year.

Made of a self-hardening epoxy component and pigmented with swirls of color, the works are exuberant and sensuous, exerting a nervous immediacy and visual intrigue in which there seems to be no rest. A whorl of rubbery barnacles transits into a plinth here or a horizontal riff there, like an exotic coffee table set out in the middle of Arcadia.

Still, the drama and visual ferment in Wiener's sculpture is more subtle than it at first appears.

Intrinsic in these works is their unknowability -- they gush color and form like a subset of action painting, slipping in and out of their own passages as form boils over into structure.

It's summer on the East End when LongHouse opens. Bravo to Bonnie Rychlak for assembling this provocative show among the bucolic meadows of East Hampton's most prized public garden. 

Visiting hours to LongHouse vary throughout the summer. Visit their website for hours, directions and special events.

For more information on Bonnie Rychlak, see Jennifer Landes's informative profile in the East Hampton Star.

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