New York

Philip Pavia

Martha Jackson Gallery

Philip Pavia’s group of eleven sculptures at the Martha Jackson Gallery allow one at last to see what all the fuss has been about. As is hardly any secret, Pavia’s recent works involve the articulation of rectangular cubic pieces of marble, which, having been squarely cut, have then been mauled and fragmented by the artist before their integration into his compositions.

The stones all are, or were, extremely handsome. The ones that still are handsome may be enjoyed as such, and the ones that were give rise to a mild but agreeable nostalgic regret about their present damaged condition. The psychic mechanism to be engaged here is supposed to be the same one operative with an expressive fragment of antique sculpture or architecture, but in Pavia’s pieces something a little different actually occurs. In the instance of such an ancient fragment, there is enough of the form of the original object remaining to allow a reasonable conjecture as to what it was like, and just enough damage to kindle a genuine pathos; also, the accidentally determined form of the object in its present state is often quite expressive in its own way, full of novel features that may endear it to our own taste. In Pavia’s work the original form (the rectangular block) is not very interesting in itself, and in any case palls with his repetitious use of it. And the stones are not worked in any way that might be savored, only battered. Then too, the articulated compositions are bland and surprisingly unmonumental, considering the actual size of the pieces. Loose landscape like extents, or piled up aggregations with classicistic titles (Amazon on Horseback, Roman Chariot Race) apparently aim at an archaistic rude grandeur, but they are unfortunately rather flat. Pavia’s grasp of scale is too weak to fortify sufficiently his gentle compositions, and given this situation, the independent attractions of the material dangerously upstage all the other qualities of the pieces in this show.

Dennis Adrian