Los Angeles

Mark Di Suvero

Dwan Gallery

Brilliantly heroic sculpture for a non-heroic age, Nova Albion, constructed this past year on the beach at Point Reyes, California, has enough Whitmanian amplitude and Bunyanesque audacity to make that cross country sweep. With great “muscle and pluck,” Di Suvero flings huge pallid logs, splintered beams, gnarled telephone poles, and yellow metal girders upward into an architect’s vision of space. Like some giant crane from a new world dock or the scaffolding of a sinister Piranesi prison, this Brobdingnagian 18 1/2 feet high and 28 feet long construction juts up through a forced opening in the gallery’s not low ceiling. The enclosed setting no doubt exaggerates the rude virtues of the sculpture, emphasizing the tilt and thrust of its long diagonals, the threat of its precariously suspended weights, the chiseled mortises without tenons. Setting also forces one to experience the work as a series of jagged events. Most of the tensions are centered on a yellow mast like pole suspended between the two major parts of the construction and connected to them by taut steel cables. Starting low, from a midpoint between the legs of the sculpture’s main triangle, this metal spar swings up and out; at its furthermost tip dangle (by chain and bar) two heavy crossed logs. From the base of the triangle, jutting in another direction, is a short metal bar which impales the massive stump of a tree, like a monster roast beef on a skewer. The most incongruous “event” is a foam rubber mat mounted on a big black tire and hung by heavy ropes from somewhere within the opening in the ceiling. This flying couch can support one person, and provides a close-to-the-ground’s eye view of the total structure. The free-hanging motion is frivolous and gentle, a lively visual contrast with the craggy bulk of the other parts. “Pre Columbian,” a smaller construction (8 feet high and 16 feet in circumference), also combines easy kinetics with robust strength. Turnstile arms—red metal bars adorned with logs, beams, a tire, and a chunk of aged tree—pivot round the top of a heavy core of darker wood. Such juxtapositions function tonally as well. In Nova Albion, the speared stump, the foam swing, the tire, and the yellow girders all tend to make impudent comment on the sullen drama of the huge logs; the total work is by consequence an energetic interplay of epic and mock-epic.

It is by now probably obligatory to note the connection between Di Suvero’s constructions and either Franz Kline’s oeuvre or de Kooning’s late 50’s paintings. His work also obviously relates to the no longer avant-garde spirit of the anti-finish, pro-raw and dirty school. For many artists commitment to this esthetic meant no more than roughening up the surface of an already cooked conception. A late corner (his first show was in 1960), Di Suvero is one of the very few untamed sculptors to have taken the idea to such an exciting and literal extreme.

Nancy Marmer