Critics’ Picks

Naama Tsabar, Work on Felt (Variation 1), 2012, felt, carbon fiber, piano string, guitar tuning peg, 51 x 29 x 100".

New York

Naama Tsabar

Thierry Goldberg Gallery
109 Norfolk Street
September 9–October 21

When Naama Tsabar exhibited Untitled (Speaker Wall) and Untitled (Speaker Wall - Prototype), both 2010, in that year’s “Greater New York” at MoMA PS1, they reverberated—literally and figuratively. Eight-foot black monoliths bearing bookshelf speakers in front and an array of guitar strings in back, the sculptures emitted a loud, heavy hum that—at the pluck of a string—erupted into otherworldly oscillations, the sound of electric gamelan run through Richard Strauss’s Thus Spake Zarathustra. These were sculptures impersonating instruments (or was it vice versa?), apropos totems for a moment when the city’s institutions have brought the plastic arts and performance into greater proximity. For her current solo exhibition, Tsabar approaches the same juncture, but alters her route. Succinctly put, her sculptural point of reference has shifted from Minimalism to post-Minimalism. Whereas Untitled (Speaker Wall) rested on the preexisting visual rhyme between rectilinear stereo cabinets and Minimalist slabs, her latest work results from straightforward actions performed on raw materials that test their physical properties: their weight, density, pliancy, and capacity to conduct sound. In Singing Wall (one), 2012, a wood platform leans against the tilt of a stage monitor, echoing the precarious balance of Richard Serra’s one-ton prop pieces; the whole arrangement threatens to shake and topple should someone bark loudly enough into the adjacent attached microphone. In Work on Felt (Variation I), 2012, a piano string pulls the edges of a thick felt pad up off the ground, reimagining the limp cloth hangings of Robert Morris as an oversize violin that changes pitch according to the string’s tautness.

Historical resonance helps elucidate the logic of Tsabar’s work, but that’s not what makes these sculptures compelling. Rather, it’s the situation they establish. When performance enters the gallery, it spotlights the dynamics of power and privilege inherent in training and mastery. The elitist allure of virtuosity warps the democratic yearning for egalitarian participation. Tsabar betrays both urges: For this exhibition she has organized a concert series with professional musicians, but at all other times visitors may play the instrument-sculptures themselves. In either case, however, the inventive strangeness of these apparatuses turns attention away from the talents of individual performers and toward the unpredictable acoustic phenomena. The power here resides in the material.