New York

Peter Alexander

Elkon Gallery

At the Elkon Gallery, Californian Peter Alexander was seen in his first full East Coast exhibition, although several of his luminously elegant cast plastic cubes and wedges have been shown at random in the gallery and recently in the Whitney’s Sculpture Annual. Alexander’s characteristic medium is a wedge-shaped pinkish or lavender/blue/grey delicately slender object, partially transparent, which catches, reflects and diffuses light as it passes through the prismatic density of the piece. Neither fully object, nor fully treated as illusion in the pictorial sense, the work situates itself somewhere in the midst of a state of objecthood and a state of artifice and illusionism.

Pink Window, a tapered squarish wedge set on a high lucite base is an opaque, gelatinous magenta when viewed from the side, but when looked at from the front or back it appears as an almost flat sheet of pinkish light cast upward and gradating (from bottom to top) into thin air. In terms of visual effect it is often difficult to ascertain whether light is actually trapped and suspended like a cloud as it passes through the plastic volume, or whether it is the toning and coloration of the material itself which creates the radiant, still aura within and around the piece. In each of the works—some like the Pink Window are squared, others are tall narrow obelisk wedges—Alexander varies both the coloring and the intensity of pigmentation as it softly grades outwards from the core toward the sharp precise edges of the form. Suffused green-mauve, milky lavender blue, smoky grey, and violet-amethyst hues make these pristinely simple, singular shapes into fragile jewel-like encasements. Depending on light source and situation (all the works in the show were installed in front of white wall surfaces and were lighted from above) the polyester resin may appear extremely dense, self-contained; and solid, or its substance may appear to be completely dissolved, the disembodied carrier of some elusively lovely source of illumination.

In some of the larger narrow wedges there is more room for Alexander to work with the subtle passage from one quality (at the base, an opaque concrete form glowing around its transparent contours like a corporealized Rothko) to another (at the apex, a paper thin slice almost blended into the light of the room around it). Although he tends to be less pictorial about these larger pieces than he is with the smaller squared works, it seems that Alexander’s eye is more distinctly attuned to the possibilities of pictorial rather than three-dimensional spatial illusion. All of the works struck me, however, as a phenomenon of sensibility quite certainly different from—perhaps in some ways impossible to—the very climate of New York. Even the sense of atmosphere and light so lavishly recaptured in these plastic forms radiates quite clearly from another sky, though that is not to say that they aim to or actually refer to the artist’s California origin. Maybe it was this special sense of alien context which made Alexander’s work look even more precious and rarefied to my eye; decoratively lovely and even a bit otherworldly if taken in contrast to the more ponderous conceptual and physical weightiness of say, Minimal art, or even in comparison to some of the more recent “process” work by New Yorkers like Richard Serra or Alan Saret.

Emily Wasserman