New York

Robert Bart

Leo Castelli Gallery

At this moment, when precociousness is at a premium, the first major exhibition of an artist in his forties is, in itself, something of an event. If the vision is convincing then the possible defects of a late start are effaced. Robert Bart has made a brilliant entry on the New York sculptural scene at a single stroke. His language of forms is familiar (conceivably influenced by a stint in the Air Force during the Second World War) and is firmly rooted in engineering, our ultimate rationalist refuge. Bart inclines to simple large masses amazingly composed out of a multitude of modular units which he designs and casts out of aluminum. The geometric sections are then nattily screwed together. The result is a kind of compulsive cybernetics. Ivan Karp also felt this when he spoke of Bart’s pieces as “giant silent computers with a blunt, aggressive skin, poised for a monumental labor.”

The cooler works represent spheres sliced into quarters and eighths. The romantic pieces are Cape Kennedy configurations of eccentric turbines. Classicist prejudices lead one to prefer the former group although they are less arresting than the latter type. These, while seemingly brutalist, are also a trifle quirky, like vast pipelines erected to fight air pollution.

Much of Bart’s work falls within the province of conscientious artisanry—a cosmic plumbing—thereby robbing it of some of its raw effectiveness. His masterly piecing together of the unit and his nice respect for the physical characteristics of aluminum betray the sculptor’s innate decorousness. Above all else the strength of Bart’s sculpture comes from its scale. In this respect it reminds one of the last works of David Smith. He too sought to humanize his mammoth arrangements of “ur”-form behind seductive sheaths of shimmering polish.

––Robert Pincus-Witten