New York

George Segal

Janis Gallery

George Segal’s grim monuments intensify the beauty inherent in the transient commonplace. His figures are completely unselfconscious. A nude girl indifferently expresses some triviality to her fatigued partner resting on a bed’s edge. An old woman observes the horizon outside her window. A nude girl brushes her hair. A luncheonette waitress distractedly pours coffee. A nude girl stretches out in bed listening to her record player. The kosher butcher’s wife unthinkingly dresses a heap of slaughtered chickens.

Segal has an uncanny gift for seizing the exact, pregnant detail. Marcel Duchamp notes, as introduction to the exhibition, that “With Segal it’s not a matter of the found object; it’s the chosen object.” The environments are severely uncluttered. They are spare, Jansenist, succinct. The Old Woman at Window holds a cane, sits in an aluminum frame folding chair. The Woman Brushing Hair does so with a nylon bristle brush while seated in a green kitchen chair. The waitress in The Diner, dimly lit by a dingy fluorescent fixture, serves coffee in a heavy ceramic cup. Ethel Scull watchfully protects herself behind black sunglasses. The detail underscores the sense of the whole.

The intense realness of these sculptures, their total environmental power, is immensely pervasive. (By chance a notebook was put down on The Diner’s black formica counter. Instantly it was swallowed up by the group. No longer neutral or utilitarian, it had become part of Segal’s mutely brooding world.) Segal’s plaster effigies are metaphors of a vast, inarticulate ordinariness. He is the sculptor of an incommunicativeness at once dulled and contemplative. He is the wholly unanticipated heir of Edward Hopper.

Robert Pincus-Witten