Los Angeles

Clark Murray

Nicholas Wilder Gallery

Hard edges—even in the overfamiliar sense of the term—are neither dead nor dying. They are vibrantly alive in eight new wall sculptures by Clark Murray at Nicholas Wilder. These are of rolled steel, varying from approximately eight to ten feet in length, and are monochromed with red, orange, blue, green, yellow or black sprayed paint. Though they are closely related to Murray’s modified wedge shaped pieces that were shown here last year, there are a few crucial differences. First, the earlier glossy finish has been toned down to a uniform matte surface, which eliminates distracting reflections and is all to the good. Secondly, whereas last year’s works had only four angles each, these have five. The fifth angle is so oblique that it is at first difficult to discern, being only a matter of two or three degrees. Thus what appears to be the longest edge of each work is actually transformed, about two-thirds of the way along its length toward the narrow end, into two dissecting lines rather than a single straight line. So there are five lines and five angles in each form. With these ten geometric properties and one un-arithmetical factor, color, an incredible number of possibilities open up. The complexity of one’s progressive apprehension of each piece is in fact so overwhelming, despite their total lack of superficial detail, that one cannot possibly think of them as belonging to the “reductionist” or “minimal” movement in sculpture. The multiplicity of these works lies not so much in their actuality as in their linear, angular and chromatic potential. Murray has not concerned himself with a process of reduction, but of refinement.

The most immediately striking aspect of these works is the tremendous effect which their positioning on the wall has on their respective appearances of weight and direction. The red one, placed diagonally with the long side (or sides) downward, seems to lean backward and to be supported against this edge. The orange one, on the other hand, seems not comfortably but precariously placed, with the shorter of the two long sides facing downward—it falls rather than leans. Only the green piece is placed horizontally, and only here does one quickly grasp the impact which the “fifth angle” has on the total shape. The long edge faces down, but the slight depression formed by the intersecting lines gives it an extraordinary sense of lift and support; it is as if the whole thing were floating, or being pushed upward by an invisible force.

No two sides of any of these objects are parallel, but at least some of the works seem to be conceived in relation to a square. It happens that one of the two blue pieces is hung so that the two short sides are clearly seen to be at right angles to each other—one parallels the ceiling, and the other the adjacent wall. The longest side, if visualized in terms of a square, would bisect the square diagonally. The lines formed by the short sides, hypothetically extended straight out from their respective acute intersections, meet at a ninety-degree angle, forming half of a square. In cases where the works are hung with no parallel relationships to wall or ceiling, it is difficult to visually ascertain whether this formula is consistently applied. Murray carries the concept which is created by the interplay of square format and oblique lines to one of its ultimate resolutions simply by eliminating the format. The square, as it has appeared in painting and sculpture so often, is here barely implied—it refuses to disappear—and it functions now as one of the most compelling facets of Murray’s work.

Jane Livingston