Los Angeles

Melvin Schuler

Ankrum Gallery

At Ankrum, northern California sculptor Melvin Schuler is having his first L.A. exhibition. He works in wood, mostly black walnut waxed to a handsome finish, and builds both freestanding monoliths (usually with more than one component) and bolted constructions. They range in height from about four to nearly seven feet. The monolithic pieces show a strong feeling for proportion and balance, or imbalance, but apart from a few really engaging ones in which solid, roughly squarish chunks are unevenly superimposed in heavily precarious stacks (Tall Form), they tend to call too much attention to their very competent craftsmanship, at the expense of whatever thoughts about shape, weight, etc., the sculptor had in mind.

More provocative are the “caged” constructions, in which Schuler bolts wooden forms to tall iron frames to free himself from the demands of gravity. Caged Thrusting Forms and Caged Blocks are each made of four roughly hewn vertical chunks of wood, three of which climb obliquely upward, the other protruding down from the top of the frame. The nature of the material itself comes even more to issue here than elsewhere because one of these adjacent works is of black walnut and the other of lighter, unfinished “mixed hardwoods.” The difference is striking.

Several other “caged” works employ color (red or blue) in the form of painted edges, with little detriment or advantage to the total effect. One of these, Caged Slab Forms, has six eminently slab-like pieces bolted together at slightly varying angles—from vertical to oblique and more oblique. One slab, at top, supports three which move down, inward and barely around; the other two face this group on the opposite side of the frame. The surfaces undulate, and the edges are painted red or blue. There is decidedly a front and a back, but both are equally presentable. Another “caged” structure, untitled and uncolored, works perhaps best of all. It employs only two pieces: a long, flattish one curves downward to meet, at its lower end, a concavely turned slab. It works well from nearly any viewpoint.

Jane Livingston