New York

Dennis Byng

Martha Jackson Gallery

Dennis Byng’s chosen medium is faultlessly transparent plexiglass, a material striking in having opposite qualities for different senses. To the eye, plexiglass is so diaphanous as to be invisible; it is literally nothing, in formal terms pure volume. But to the touch it is opaque, impenetrable; in formal terms, it is mass. As “solid void,” then, plexiglass teaches the senses to distrust each other, and in the mild bafflement and wonder which result lies some of the charm of Byng’s work.

Within Byng’s plexiglass occur small perfect slabs of color. These present an interesting comment on much of current sculpture’s concern with making process visible. Floating in an immaculate visual void—the plexiglass seeming to have excluded the artist’s touch as well as ours—the slabs appear to have no provenance whatever, as if not made but dreamed. Rather than trying to make visible their own technical history, Byng’s slabs obscure it, even to the point of mystification.

They are part of an ascetic vocabulary familiar since De Stijl—pure geometric form and a limited number of hues that never vary. But of these rigid elements Byng makes rich use. First, the slabs have very different visual effects depending on the angle from which they are seen. Edge on, they are slim volumes that float; turned slightly, their edges blur and they become areas; turned still more they begin to dye the plexiglass behind them and their effect is three-dimensional again. Also, as the slabs are translucent, all these effects are additive, color on color. And last, the surfaces of Byng’s cubes sometimes echo, as prisms, the hues within (L in the show is a lovely example), and sometimes, as mirrors (G and M) repeat them. Byng is a fine artist. With straight lines and right angles he coolly makes geometry create its gentlest adversary—flowers.

Jean-Louis Bourgeois