New York

Etienne Martin

Lefebre Gallery

Etienne Martin’s first American show at the Lefebre Gallery struggles manfully against the spatial limitations of the exhibition space in an effort to find some room in which to stretch. Huddled in a cozy room and a half, his biggish pieces are obliged to thrust wantonly at the viewer surfaces meant only to be seen from some distance. Smaller works which might have had a chance were jostled to death or dwindled unhappily. The pieces themselves offer a variety of interpretations of standard European sculptural conceptions, such as “Petit Couple,” “Mandoline,” and “Grand Couple Tapie.” The banality of these images (at least in an American context) is not particularly relieved by scattering a debut with pieces from several different periods. It quite unfairly gives the impression that no single problem dealt with in the show has ever been resolved. Sympathetic viewing will allow the Toltecoid “Nuit Ouverte” to generate a tolerable mythic power, but the “Tete aux Mains” is cornball Clunko-Rodin no matter how hard one tries. Nor can fashionably vaginal suggestions lift “Nuit Nina” out of bourgeois steatopygia to commanding presence. More generalized organic forms in “L’Arbre” climb skyward nicely, since they are not obligated to tote such a burden of Elemental Feeling. Considering the scandalous state of French sculpture for some years, the experienced M. Martin deserved every courtesy as one of the few French sculptors whose international reputation has developed steadily over the past decade. This show does him no service. Only a larger more consistently organized group of works, adequately displayed, will permit an accurate assessment of his gifts and accomplishments.

Dennis Adrian