Los Angeles

Reuben Nakian

Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA)

The Herculean sculpture of Nakian is formidable in concept, enterprise, daring, and innovation. This large exhibition, sponsored by the Contemporary Arts Council, is comprised of some 50 works in varied mediums. Among the many examples included here are the Museum of Modern Art’s well known Rape of Lucrece and other welded structures, plus an assortment of bronzes, terracottas and drawings. In an exhibition of tremendous power, the remarkably monumental Rape and The Duchess of Alba, constructed from steel shields and pipes, stand out as two of the most impressive contemporary works of art seen in Southern California in many years. The pipes in these sculptures function as a skeletal, organic part of the whole, and give the larger, heavier mass of darkness a body of air on which to float. The blackness of the steel slabs appears ambiguously weightless as the complex web of lines (pipes) induces a geometric lyricism. The mass, assisted by linear sheets and blades, interweaves anatomically, in a dramatic manner distantly reminiscent of a Franz Kline coming to life in space. What Nakian does with Goya’s Duchess may be compared to what Brahms did with his variations on a theme by Haydn. The Duchess has become Nakian’s own creation, his child, as it were, inspired by the other’s conception, but metamorphized into an order and an idea which is original, clear and heroic. Most of Nakian’s smaller bronzes are distinguished also. They are intense, provocatively romantic executions concerned with surface glitter in a Rodinesque way, and convey a deeply felt emotional content along with their figurative message. It is too bad that some are marred by a disturbingly cheap-looking gold patina that detracts more than enhances. The drawings of Nakian are divided into two categories—those incised into subtly colored terra cotta, and those masterful black and white wash renderings which seem to have taken much from the heritage of the renaissance. Nakian, now a white haired 65 years of age, must certainly be due for more acclaim than he has had to date.

Arthur Secunda