New York

Kenneth Snelson

Dwan Gallery

Kenneth Snelson’s attractive stainless steel tube and wire-strung constructions at the Dwan Gallery are of interest mainly for their demonstration of an expensive and tasteful idea, rather than in terms of real plastic or sculptural significance. As examples of a certain kind of superficial structural “mathematics,” or as monuments to a svelte, modern look, they show how accomplished craftsmanship and a stylish intellectual skin are made to appear really Important.

Three large pieces and several small maquettes were exhibited, but the great differences in scale do not appreciably change one’s reaction to what Snelson’s work is all about. Not all of it is to be condemned in one shot, however, and some of the effects are sophisticated enough to be redeeming. The largest structure, called Double City Boots (1967), is typical of what there is to look at, and for, in most of the other works. In it, a system of four crossing steel pipes of equal length form two large parallel “X’s”, and are, in turn, interpenetrated longitudinally by four shorter horizontally set tubes. These horizontal members are “suspended,” though held in space by taut steel wiring, which is threaded through the tips of each pipe. This stringing makes linear connections which one’s eye might normally span in another, more logical or regular manner, to accord with, and pin down the symmetry of the hollow and visually heavier tubes. Thus, the symmetrical projections are really “joined” in an erratic, asymmetrical way, even though their physical positioning in space is ostensibly regular. It sounds more complicated than it is. The series of tilted spatial planes which are formed by all the criss-crossed pipes and interwoven wires does little to revive the. essentially static arrangements of the pipes. Nor does the eccentricity of these imagined planes relieve the excruciating tensility of all the concrete, visible members.

Another larger piece, V.X., (1967) is like a diagram of a bunch of pick-up sticks frozen in mid-fall. Although it has many more intricate perspectives and interlocking solids and voids than most of the other works, it too, in its overall effect, is quite static, and lacking in the dynamics one begins to expect from its arrangement. A little more involving here is the matter of light glinting off the shiny surfaces of the pipes, and the interplay between this chromed brightness and the soft, woven shadows created by the tubes and wiring. A smaller, untitled work sitting low on the floor carries this extension of material into unusual spatial and reflective situations a bit farther. Here only three tubes of varying length and diameter are used, two of them crossing each other at oddly obtuse angles, while one rises like a mast between them. The curious thing about this piece is that the wires seem to hoist these jutting pipes upwards, like a ship’s riggings, at the same time that they anchor them back down to the floor plane with a compulsive velocity. Actually, one of the nicest works is a small model, Wiggin’s Fork (1967), only six inches high, which pits three columns standing in a triangular relationship against two long horizontals which thrust between and through them, creating an off-axis, almost off-balance tension which is more exciting than in most of the bigger constructions. Despite all the costly looking sleekness, and the real attempts at structural complexity, Snelson’s work for the most part runs itself out into nothing more than a rather vapid elegance.

Emily Wasserman