Critics’ Picks

  • Bill Walton, Wisteria Series, undated, wisteria wood, lead, carbon, 2 3/4“ × 11” × 16". From “Wisteria Series,” no date.

    Bill Walton, Wisteria Series, undated, wisteria wood, lead, carbon, 2 3/4“ × 11” × 16". From “Wisteria Series,” no date.

    New York

    Bill Walton

    JTT
    390 Broadway
    October 28–December 17, 2022

    Sculptor Bill Walton (1931–2010) was a master of subtle deception. What initially looks like wood might actually be copper, lead, or iron. In his exhibition here, “from bits and pieces / from lots of places / from different spots in time,” you never really know what it is you’re looking at until you’re inches away from the thing. Functioning loosely as portraits, the components of Walton’s artworks are fastidiously arranged into small-scale assemblages and spread out on a low, white pedestal, like a tray of Minimalist canapés presented for our pleasure.

    1/4 Turn (Split) (all works undated) looks simply as though it were constructed from two wooden planks: one flipped on its side, the other laid flat. Yet their exposed edges are coated in delicate layers of white pigment and wax, producing an uncanny sheen. In a piece from the artist’s “Wisteria Series,” a gnarled chunk of the namesake tree is precariously balanced atop three stacked slabs of wood—although one of them is really copper, expertly camouflaged. Connecting a pair of branches in another “Wisteria Series” sculpture, one of which is Y-shaped like an old-fashioned slingshot, is what appears to be a thick, twisted rubbery band—an element actually crafted from lead.

    While Walton’s art might seem austere, it’s never cold, as the work was created by a thoughtful hand and a sentimental heart. See the sprawl of fabric weighed down by a concrete brick, a piece from the series “Sweet Lou & Marie (#4 - Blue Shirt),” titled after a couple he was friends with. Or the various wisteria pieces, all of which were made from a tree that grew in the yard of Walton’s second wife. Surprisingly tender, these works are like memorials to people and places in time. While they may vanish, the memories of them will not.

  • Spencer Finch, Candlelight (CIE 529/418), 2022, stained glass, steel frame, dimensions variable.

    Spencer Finch, Candlelight (CIE 529/418), 2022, stained glass, steel frame, dimensions variable.

    New York

    Spencer Finch

    Hill Art Foundation
    239 Tenth Avenue, Third Floor
    September 16, 2022–March 4, 2023

    Spencer Finch’s efforts to rediscover and resurrect moments of ephemerality, often through re-creating specific instances of light and color—such fleeting treasures—speak to our instinct to wrest control and ownership of beauty. Finch doesn’t look to this gap between our desires and reality with sorrow, but instead explores this push and pull with humor and affection. His work tells a story about human life with all its foibles and grace, reminding us how lucky we are to experience it.

    The artist’s show here, “Lux and Lumen,” takes its title from the writings of twelfth-century historian Abbot Suger, an early champion of Gothic architecture and the steward of a cathedral in Saint-Denis, France, which serves as the subject of Finch’s Rose Window at Saint-Denis (morning effect), 2022, a radial composition of LEDs adhered to a wall that re-creates the morning light of the holy space. Suger wrote of the ability that stained glass has to transform everyday light, or lux, into the more sacred form of luminescence, lumen. By toying with this distinction between the divine and the ordinary, a subtle but revelatory question emerges: What light isn’t holy?

    The show was conceived around the foundation’s recent acquisition and restoration of The Creation and the Expulsion from Paradise, 1533, a stained-glass work by French Renaissance artist Valentin Bousch. It depicts Adam and Eve on their dejected walk from Eden—the expulsion from paradise yet another metaphor for our need to find the permanent and perfect in a world that is neither. Finch selected ten of his own pieces, made between 2001 and 2022, to exhibit alongside it. Among them are The Outer—from the Inner (Emily Dickinson’s Bedroom Window at Dusk), 2018, a suite of seven small photographs of the window beside the eponymous poet’s writing desk at her home in Amherst, Massachusetts. These images capture the progression of night; as evening grows, the windows become darker and more reflective, and the surfaces that once contained exterior views instead begin to mirror the room’s interior. And Candlelight (CIE 529/418), 2022, a stained-glass installation, makes the natural light from an upstairs corner of the exhibition space mimic the warmth of a candle’s flame—another flickering of human yearning, another flash of the divine.

  • View of “Bill Albertini: Hands Off,” 2022.

    View of “Bill Albertini: Hands Off,” 2022.

    New York

    Bill Albertini

    Theodore
    373 Broadway Room F10, buzzer 610
    October 21–December 10, 2022

    “Hands Off,” Bill Albertini’s latest show here, combines video art, stainless steel, aluminum prints, and robot-whittled wood to highlight modern technology’s generative potential with such elegance, it could make a believer out of the most stubborn Luddite.

    One wall is dedicated to Albertini’s ongoing “Save As” sculpture series, which he’s been chipping away at since 2019. At the center of the arrangement sits a compact prototype designed by the artist in an Oculus Rift VR headset, which was given life via bronze-infused steel by an industrial metallurgy company. Variations on that work flank both sides of it, each iteration slightly different from its predecessor. Some of them even spawn branches that jut toward the ceiling or the floor. What might feel recursive instead has real motion; the overall impression reminds you why anyone ever thought computers might be liberating.

    The rest of the gallery’s long, narrow space is devoted to pieces from Albertini’s series “Pipe Dream System,” 2018–, a circulatory network comprising discrete parts made with various types of CAD software that were pieced together via sundry production techniques—in this case, a seven-axis robot from William Paterson University in Wayne, New Jersey. The disassembled components of a poplar-wood form appear beside it in dreamy aluminum prints, which also feature images of wildflowers. A looping video scatters light-refracting pieces of snakelike pipes that twist through steel grids on a shelf beside the screen.

    The details of each individual sculpture are playful and stirring, and invite careful scrutiny in a way that sleeker, more frictionless digital art might not. That immutable human sensibility, in the end, is what makes “Hands Off” stick. Albertini can tie his hands behind his back all he wants. His touch, so to speak, comes through anyway.