New York

Walter de Maria, Mark di Suvero and Richard Serra

Noah Goldowsky Gallery

Three sculptors of notable talent fill out the restrained space of the Goldowsky front room. Two of them, Walter de Maria and Mark di Suvero, are familiar enough to be, in the present review, almost overlooked. By far, the freshest figure is a newcomer from the West Coast called Richard Serra. In the face of the current trialogue, Serra appears to link certain of the effete literary qualities of de Maria to the male principle of di Suvero. Of the three, Serra provides the most exciting contrasts of medium and literary undertone.

The featherweight is surely Walterde Maria. His floor piece, a sleek channeled swastika plus gliding steelie is such a swish impersonation of épater le bourgeois that one can only regard it as an offensive piece of puerile affectation. The di Suveros suffer of course for being small. Some are ship cable and steel wire mobiles and others randomly permuteable, although di Suvero’s aggressive manner, his chewed-up steel passages and elementary folksiness all contrive to dissuade one from jogging the pieces.

The major work of the show is an untitled unit of nine sections by Serra. The piece is made out of a highly eccentric substance, floppy rubber, in a range of earthen and putty-like color. Each unit, like a thick, flaccid harness, is itself composed out of about a dozen belt-like lengths. Yet the floppiness, and despite our great sense of its flaccidity, is artfully controlled. Each element has been carefully, if improvisationally, fixed together with a multitude of bent twopenny nails. The unit appears to form random patterns, yet each position is fixed and duplicatable. In this respect they call to mind the punched-up toughness of a Chamberlain. The fixity of each work is underscored by an extraordinary neon counterpoint. In the case of the nine unit assemblage, a meander of blue neon, an erratic gesture trace, both firm line and insubstantial luminosity. This paradox is akin to the solid rubber material which provides one at the same time with the impression of chaotic softness. Serra employs this rich paradox in still other large untitled “S and M” rubber belt intermeshings. In one he plays off a seismographic neon warp against a flaccid body of rubber woof. In another, a straight horizontal of red orange neon is garnished over with wraith-like unpeelings of ghostly bandages of kneaded rubber erasers.

Rubber in various states is Serra’s preferred medium. A strong and didactic work presents a wall size expanse of a hard, bituminous matter and approximates in shape a stiff and shabby rectangle. Little or no attention is given to the larger spread of the substance, a disdain which oddly reminds one of the dim surfaces of Clyfford Still or the drab skin of certain Newmans. At the edges, little flange like “hinges” and other peripheral encrustations indicate the artist’s acute artistic sensibility. The rubberoid development at the edges also brings to mind the marginalian preoccupations of recent Olitski—though in a thoroughly anti colorist and anti colloidal way.

Serra’s pieces are still troubled by how they hook up to the electricity source. He solves the fuse-box problem by frank exposure—but one still does not quite know whether or not to include it in the total figuration of the piece as a kind of Johnsian environmental clue or to cut it away from the work with a superb Noh refusal to see what is patently before one’s eyes. The problem is still unsolved but meantime Serra has made a brilliant back door entry into the middle of the New York parlor.

Robert Pincus-Witten