New York

Steven Urry

Royal Marks Gallery

To enter the Royal Marks Gallery this month is to venture into a gaggle of shimmying, shimmering metal forms that bask hugger-mugger in the gallery light, giving off as they do, an almost manic joie-de-vivre. The author of these aluminum frolics is Steven Urry, who makes one of the most accomplished debuts it has been my pleasure to witness. The nerve with which these aggregates have been joined together and then crowded environmentally upon each other, is as apparent as the levity of a sculptor who can imagine such titles as Psychedilly Rose, or Waul Phaulderawl. But if there is something diffident in his captions, his sculptural vocabulary is complex and heroic—even in its detachment. Moreover, an extraordinarily controlled intelligence, wedded with a sharp eye, keeps even the most outlandishly abandoned of his ideas within the bounds of sculptural decorum.

The pieces collected here take as their natural domain an orientation stemming from ceiling, wall, or floor, so that whether their enormous arabesques are kinky or absurdly winding, one steps over or around or through these compositions, aware of an elasticity of space that is as visceral in tone as it is grandiose in dimension. Yet there are two immediate paradoxes in this situation. One is that the more forceful the spilled or flung components of this sculpture, the more congealed does their metal status make them out to be. The other is that no matter how much the very life of the work depends on curvature, twisting is kept down to the barest minimum. Urry, on the contrary, senses most relationships as oppositions of profiles, which he juggles to confuse (yet to keep distinct) the directional energies of the piece. Additionally, the experience of any one of these creations is of hairsplitting tangents, in which the gymnastic forms reel extremely close to each other or the gallery confines, but then move away with daredevil ease. This flirtatious sculpture, moreover, employs such devices as cut-aways, some geometric surface relief, cubic forms, a quasi-tubing, drunken “toboggans,” in a highly ambitious stereotyped spatial vocabulary that has no fear of being thought ridiculous. Far from the funkiness of some of its passages, the overall statement has much of the probity of David Smith, with whose burnished cast aluminum surfacing, and buoyant disequilibriums, it has much in common. If Urry, in his youthful ardor, lacks a certain discretion, if his exuberance sometimes engenders too much ornamentation, too much cavalier instability in the distribution of weights (light though the whole ensemble is), he still seems a sculptor of immense resources, and the practitioner of a grand manner.

The last great practitioner of figurative art within a continuous naturalistic tradition was probably Degas, who died during the First World War. With him, the primacy of the figure, as vehicle for a realist style, passed on, or evaporated, in modern art. Sensuous conviction in flesh, faith in the justification of observed imagery, and belief in the centrality of humanism all parted ways, or rather, were blasted apart, by the successive waves of the avant-garde. Despite the presence of artists like Balthus, Picasso and Bacon, despite a figurative gestalt in Abstract Expressionism, and the ironic re-introduction of representational techniques in Pop art, depiction of the human body for its own sake is today a disenfranchised activity, severed from its once vital sources of tradition.

Max Kozloff