New York

Elliot Offner

Shifting from the Bykert Gallery to Elliot Offner’s sculpture at the Forum is to experience a swift and obvious emotional disjunction between two not so distant generations. Bollinger is understated and cool in his approach to materials and forms, as Offner is emotionally committed and involved in a kind of precious artisanship which no longer interests most of the youngest sculptors. Although the two are at extreme opposite poles, neither Offner nor Bollinger seems to represent the finest that either attitude would have to offer. Offner’s show is composed of thirty carved or cast plaques, figures and busts, in mahogany, maple wood, steel or bronze, along with twelve drawing studies for these works. All of them are based roughly on themes which derive from the medieval crusades, evangelists, or Jewish symbols and history. These, Offner finds, are not literally a response to the present war, but are general reflections of our times, or of war as a similar “mad voyage” to the historical campaigns or horrors which inspire his work.

Many of the small cast bronze heads are quite fine in themselves, apart from their iconographic origins. They are delicately wrought relic skulls with corroded helmets, or partly schematized Janus heads in contrasting woods and stainless steel. Offner delights in the personalized “cuisine” touch, as much as he loves to combine and metamorphose his symbols. Strange half-bird, half human heads are swallowed up in thick, carved encasements, or denuded until they are no more than a thin cranium. The mahogany Head of Golgotha is a massive sheathed carving into which a cross is cut, allowing a nose and eyes to peak through. The symbolism in a piece like this one is so trite, however, that it fairly well obscures whatever might be said about its formal qualities. Offner tends towards this emotionally intense or overtly symbolic approach in much of his work; thus by saying too much, he lessens the pure plastic impact. The thrashing, emaciated Auschwitz figures, crucified to wooden slabs, are so literal as to almost cancel out the larger view of the notable advances he has made since he last showed obese bronze and wooden women, along with similar tortured bodies, in 1964. Fortunately, most of the exhibit is devoted to the more schematically worked helmet-heads in which sentimental involvement is somewhat suspended. These indicate possibilities of far greater formal interest, yet still within the figurative tradition which Offner maintains.

Emily Wasserman